VIERA, Fla. -- Another ugly loss for the Nationals today -- 11-2 to the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium. That makes seven in as many games, during which the Nationals have allowed 67 runs, 91 hits and 12 home runs.
Manager Jim Riggleman has reserved any sweeping judgments, though, for several reasons: The Nationals still have pitchers, like Scott Olsen today, who are pitching for the first time this spring. They're leaving pitchers in the game to work when they get hit, where they'd remove the same pitchers during a regular-season game. And they have pitchers working on new mechanics and approaches.
In short: It's possible the Nationals' pitching staff could be this bad, but it's too soon to say that definitively.
"We're not pitching good, but we're not pitching to a (10.98) ERA, either," Riggleman said. "It's not as ugly as the numbers indicate. But we've got a long way to go."
Audio of Riggleman's pre- and post-game press conferences can be found here. On with the awards for today:
Josh Willingham: With a long home run in his first at-bat of the spring, WIllingham served notice he is ready to go. He'll play left field tomorrow after DHing today, and we'll get a better feel for where he's at defensively. But the shot he hit off Ricky Nolasco was an impressive start.
Ryan Zimmerman: The Nationals' franchise player hit his first homer of the spring in the sixth inning, and also made a few of the defensive plays it's easy to take for granted by watching him so much. Perhaps the best was how quickly he gobbled up Jorge Cantu's grounder in the fourth inning, firing to second to start the easiest 5-4-3 double play you'll ever see.
Tyler Clippard: The reliever struck out the side in his inning of work, giving up one hit and continuing his sharp start to the spring. Clippard's changeup makes him so tough on lefties that it's conceivable the Nationals start the season with him as their situational reliever against left-handed bats. It's more likely they put a left-hander in the bullpen and use the right-handed Clippard for a variety of situations, but he gives them the flexibility to mix and match.
Collin Balester: The right-hander was decent for two innings, and then the wheels came off in his third frame. He allowed a total of three runs on six hits and two walks, and was lifted for Jesse English in the fifth. Balester is still struggling to keep the ball down, and doesn't do himself any favors with the walks. He's got some time, but even as bad as the Nationals are pitching, there are other rotation candidates with a chance to move ahead of him.
Scott Olsen: The left-hander said Monday's outing was "the best I've felt so far, by far," but he still gave up three runs on seven hits in two innings. All of the damage came in the first inning, when Olsen allowed five hits, including a three-run homer to Jorge Cantu that bounced off Willie Harris' glove and just over the left-field wall. Olsen's fastball was between 86-88 mph; he was happy with that, and so was Riggleman. He wasn't overly concerned with the outing, but for one day, at least, the result was less than ideal.
Space Coast Stadium beer guy: We'll give the third Nationals player a break and focus on the vendor patrolling the aisles on Monday that was so loud, the Nationals' radio broadcast picked him up when he was halfway down the third-base line. Dude, we get you've got a job to do, but do you need to do it so loudly? Although, we'll give him credit for this line: "Guys, buy your girlfriend a beer. It's cheaper than a ring."
What to watch:
The biggest key from today will be how Olsen progresses going forward. The Nationals are expecting him to be in the rotation, and he's still working on mechanical changes to make that happen. His changeup betrayed him on a few occasions Monday -- like on the Cantu homer -- but the Nationals have been happy with his progress in a return from shoulder surgery overall. He could pitch poorly for a decent chunk of the month, but if he's throwing well near the end of it, that's what counts. One thing to keep in mind, though: The Nationals could cut him and only have to pay 30 days' severance if they release him with more than 16 days to go before the regular season starts, so Olsen will have two more starts before hitting that date.
Nyjer Morgan registered his first hit of the spring, stretching what should have been a single into a double in the third inning. Morgan slid headfirst into second base, something the Nationals are trying to get him to stop doing after he broke his hand doing that last August. Morgan, and others, were practicing feet-first slides on a tarp before the game, but Riggleman thought Morgan probably slid headfirst in the game because he sensed a close play, and would likely try a few feet-first slides if he knew he had an easy steal.
The big day is finally here: Stephen Strasburg makes his Nationals debut tomorrow against the Tigers in a 1:05 start at Space Coast Stadium. The game will be televised live on MASN and MASN HD, and MLB.tv is picking up the feed. It will be broadcast on the radio, and at least a dozen national media members are expected to watch the No. 1 overall pick from the 2009 draft face the Tigers. Add the fact the Tigers' young phenom, Rick Porcello, is starting, and the possibility Drew Storen will get an inning for the Nationals, and it's good as spring training baseball gets -- even if Strasburg will only throw two innings.
John Lowe, the esteemed Tigers beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, caught up with several players today who said they were excited to face Strasburg tomorrow. "Let's see what he's got," said first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who is in the lineup tomorrow. "I'm excited to face him. The entire blog post is here, and I'd encourage checking it out -- but I'm biased, because I make no bones about the fact I don't think there's a better reporter or person in the business than Lowe.
A programming note: If you're not one of the people playing hooky from work to catch tomorrow's game, there will be a replay on MASN and MASN HD at 7:00 p.m. And as always, we'll have the live thread up and running during tomorrow's game.
Time to put together a Strasburg story that I'll have on the site later this evening. Talk to you later!