Last Wednesday, the Nationals followed their first two wins of spring training with an 11-2 loss to the Astros. They followed a win with a loss again on Saturday, and while it wasn't as lopsided as Wednesday's defeat, the Nationals weren't particularly sharp in a 5-3 loss to the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium.
Cristian Guzman and Josh Willingham made errors, though neither one led to runs. Garrett Mock walked his first batter of the spring, and gave up a homer to Gaby Sanchez on the next at-bat. The Nationals got caught stealing twice in the second inning, and could only manage a run off Florida starter Chris Volstad.
There were a few bright spots in the game, but just as many things you'd hope they'd be doing better. This week will be an important one to watch -- starters are beginning to play more frequently, pitchers are facing lineups multiple times and the performances are more indicative of how the team looks. On with the awards:
Ryan Zimmerman: 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, and a nice diving stop at third. He's ready to go.
Tyler Walker: The right-hander is still a strong candidate for a bullpen spot despite a rough spring, and he pitched a perfect eighth inning on Saturday, striking out one. He can help himself quite a bit with a strong showing in the coming week.
Drew Storen: Cut from camp on Saturday morning, Storen was still scheduled to pitch, and regained some of the precision he showed early in camp in the ninth inning on Saturday. He pitched a perfect inning, striking out one and showing a fastball that topped out at 96 mph. Storen will go to Class AA Harrisburg, but it's not likely to be a long time before he's in Washington.
Shairon Martis: The right-hander, one of the big surprises of camp last year, hasn't made a serious bid for a rotation spot this spring, and gave up two runs on three hits in two innings on Sunday, including Cameron Maybin's second homer of the game on a pitch Martis left up in the zone. He's likely headed to Class AAA Syracuse -- there hasn't been much to suggest Martis will be in the mix for a roster spot much longer.
Mike Morse: Morse grounded into a pair of double plays in his first two at-bats, and his spring average has dropped to .250 since his hot start. He's been battling the flu, and said on Saturday he still feels a little weak. He'll be looking to rebound this week.
Cristian Guzman: On the throwing error, Guzman finally was challenged with the grounder to his right the Nationals wanted to see, and he responded with a tentative sidearm throw that pulled Adam Dunn off first base. " I think he was just tentative on the throw and didn't want to let it go, and the result was what you saw," Riggleman said. The Nationals' manager typically doesn't play his veterans more than two times in three days in the spring, but they might need to get a better look at Guzman than that in the next two weeks to see if he's healthy.
What to watch:
Guzman's shoulder is the big takeaway from the game, and how he plays shortstop in the next two weeks may well determine what the Nationals do with him this season. They need to see him healthy, confident and able to make tight throws at shortstop. If he can't do that, he's of little use to them in the lineup, and in that scenario, they'd have to decide whether to put him and his $8 million salary on the bench, try to trade him or cut him loose. Riggleman said he doesn't envision any scenario in which Guzman isn't with the Nationals come Opening Day, but there's plenty to be decided by the health of his shoulder. "We're going to get to the point here pretty soon where we'll have to test it out a little more thoroughly, and see how he's going to respond," Riggleman said.
Garrett Mock looked OK in five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and striking out four. The homer he gave up was on a pitch Mock tried to put down in the zone. Instead, Mock said, "it cost me two." He threw only 48 of 80 pitches for strikes, and wasn't as sharp as he's been most of the spring, but a spot in the rotation still looks like his to lose.
The Nationals face the Marlins again on Sunday, this time in Jupiter. John Lannan will be on the mound for the Nationals. I, however, won't be there -- I'm taking a couple quasi-days off to spend some time with my wife, who's patiently been spending time with a friend while I work through her vacation. I'll post a couple times tomorrow, and will have some news from the park on Monday morning, but the live in-game threads will be taking a break until Tuesday. It'll be a little spare around here for a couple days, but I'll still post all the news and a few other things before getting back at it full-tilt on Tuesday.
The live thread from today is here, and audio from the day -- including general manager Mike Rizzo discussing the decision to cut Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen from big-league camp -- is here. Enjoy your evening!