PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Nationals lost 6-5 to the Mets this afternoon, dropping their spring record to 0-5. But aside from a once-in-a-decade fluke in the second inning, there wasn't all that much to find fault with today. Certainly not as much as in the first four games of the spring, at least.
The Nationals gave up four runs on an inside-the-park grand slam by Omir Santos, which came after the catcher hit a hard grounder down the left-field line that got stuck under the padding in foul territory. Left fielder Willy Taveras threw his hands up to indicate the ball was stuck, but third-base umpire Paul Nauert didn't stop play, and Taveras eventually decided he'd better throw the ball in to the infield. Manager Jim Riggleman went out for a brief discussion with Nauert, but nothing like what would've taken place had the same thing happened in the regular season.
"If the ball is stuck there, you have to leave it there so the umpire will see it," Taveras said. "But he needed to run. If that happened during the season, somebody's going to get thrown out of the game. He needed to run over there, hard enough, that way I can (leave the ball)."
The fluky play wouldn't have happened the same way if Jason Marquis hadn't walked three batters to start the second inning. Marquis, who cruised through the first, said he wasn't throwing through the ball enough in the second inning, trying too much to make the ball drop instead of finishing his delivery assertively. He fixed it by the end of the second inning, and closed it out with three quick outs after the grand slam. "It's spring training," he said. "You've still got five more starts to work on things."
No errors in the field, and other than Marquis' second inning, only one run (off Matt Capps in the fifth). It was a loss, but it's by far the best game the Nationals have played this spring.
"During the season, you won't take it because you lost," manager Jim Riggleman said. "But where we're at here in spring training, I'm very happy with that ballgame."
Mike Morse: With his second homer in as many games, Morse continued his push for a spot on the Nationals' bench. He also made a couple of nice plays at first, scooping low throws. He can play in enough places, and represents a good enough backup option for Adam Dunn, that it'd be surprising to see him not make the team.
Matt Chico: In his first major-league action since May 2008, Chico threw two perfect innings, displaying a fastball that hit 88 mph on the Nationals' radar gun, and striking out Santos with an impressive changeup in the fourth inning. "I'll take it," Chico said. "I left a few pitches over the middle that could have been hit hard, but fortunately, they weren't." He said his velocity felt slower than his bullpen sessions or live BP rounds, citing nerves that caused him to start moving toward the plate quicker than he would have liked in his windup, but it's close to where the left-hander wants to be. Chico said his stuff is best when his fastball is between 88 and 90 mph; otherwise, it starts to flatten out. He's still very much in the mix for a rotation spot, and got off to a strong start today.
Drew Storen: The rookie threw a 10-pitch sixth inning, three days after completing an inning in nine pitches, and got three quick groundouts against the Mets' fifth through seventh hitters. "You never expect it to be that quick, regardless of the level you're at," Storen said. "I read an article where Mariano Rivera says he just goes out there and tries to get three outs as quick as possible. That's kind of the mentality I take. Especially with the defense I have behind me, why wouldn't you let them put it in play? I've had good play both times, and that's really helped me out." Odds are, Storen still starts in the minors, but he's doing nothing to dispel the notion his stay there won't be a long one. Because he's gotten such little work, he'll likely pitch again Tuesday, sometime after Stephen Strasburg finishes his debut. And Rick Porcello is on the mound for the Tigers. For spring training, that's about as good as it gets. Did we mention lately the game is on MASN?
Jason Marquis: There's not much reason to get too worried about Marquis' Sunday start, because he's got a long track record of pitching in the majors, and he was able to quickly identify what he did wrong. Still, it's a bit disconcerting to see Marquis walk the bases full in the second.
Elijah Dukes: The right fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, left two runners on base and might have had a chance to catch Wright's double in the fifth inning that led to the only run off Matt Capps.
Paul Nauert: The third-base umpire was slow to react on the ball that got stuck under the padding on Santos' inside-the-park grand slam. We know it's spring training, but a little hustle could've changed the play -- and possibly the outcome of the game. That's the kind of thing that would cause a firestorm during the regular season.
What to watch:
Cristian Guzman is scheduled to play shortstop tomorrow, and said Sunday morning his surgically-repaired shoulder is pain-free, if a little weaker than he'd like it to be. Even if he's healthy, though, Ian Desmond is making a strong case to be on this team. He went 2-for-4 with a run and RBI on Sunday, showing hustle and smarts on the basepaths a couple times in the fifth inning. Desmond went from first to third on a throwing error by Hisanori Takahashi when the pitcher tried to pick him off, and scrambled back to third on a Dukes grounder hit on the left side of the infield. He dove back to the bag before Wright could tag him, and Dukes reached first after the Mets had no play. Desmond nearly made an error on a ground ball, but has been solid in the field so far. We've seen his athleticism and instincts come out on a couple of occasions now, and he's looking like a tough cut.
And in the crowded race for a reserve outfield spot, Justin Maxwell isn't doing himself any favors. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Sunday, though he did score a run after walking and stealing second in the first inning. Maxwell doesn't have a hit yet this spring, and needs to battle his way out of a slump to make an impression.
The Nationals return home for two days, facing the Marlins on Monday in Scott Olsen's first appearance since shoulder surgery last July. Pitching coach Steve McCatty said on Sunday that Olsen has been working on some mechanical adjustments to get himself back to the way he as throwing during his Marlins days, and he's as curious as everyone else to see how the left-hander will look when he finally gets on the mound against his old team on Monday afternoon. "His line to the plate was much better (in a side session on Saturday)," McCatty said. "He threw two of the best breaking balls I've seen him throw so far. Now, you know, once you get out there on adrenaline -- that's what's going on right now. Everybody, bang, the first time through, your adrenaline gets pumping, you overthrow, you elevate the ball. I said, 'Scotty, this is not going to be simple. It would be great if, bang, you go out there and it's back to the way it was. You've worked yourself into what you are now, we've made some changes, so it's going to take some time."
We'll be back with another live thread tomorrow; if you want a recap of today's, that's here. And audio of Riggleman's pregame and post-game press conferences can be found here, as always. Talk to you tomorrow!