In the Nationals' 8-2 loss to the Tigers on Thursday night, there were few indications they were ready to emerge from what's becoming a prolonged offensive slump this spring, just as there were few instances of clean work from the team's bullpen. But there was just a sliver or two of positivity, a few developments on which to build.
Chief among those would be Nyjer Morgan, who hadn't played in 10 days with leg injuries and entered the game hitting .143 for the spring. Morgan had been working with hitting coach Rick Eckstein to adjust his swing, and the early results showed up on Thursday night. He went 2-for-3, including a line-drive base hit, and stole two bases.
"He was his typical self," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He was creating havoc on the basepaths."
Morgan leads off our awards for the night -- no pun intended. Well, maybe just a little.
Nyjer Morgan: It's been a trying spring for Morgan, and Thursday's game was easily his best performance to date. He said he was able to get "about 10 ABs a day" working in minor-league games, which helped him fix some things with his swing, and even though his hamstring wasn't 100 percent yet, he flashed some speed on Thursday. "I was about 80 percent today. I didn't have it cranked up," Morgan said. "I really didn't want to push it too hard, but I wanted to push it to show the boys that even though that I was injured, it's good now."
Alberto Gonzalez: He went 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI, and his average actually dropped to .367. Gonzalez has had an impressive spring at the plate; he's shown over the last two years he's capable of hot stretches with the bat, even though he's probably nothing more than a backup infielder.
J.D. Martin, innings two through five: It's difficult to categorize Martin's night as good or bad, because there was so much of both in his five-inning start. After allowing five runs in the first, Martin retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, getting five groundouts and three strikeouts during that span. He did an impressive job of bouncing back after a difficult first inning.
J.D. Martin, inning one: As good as Martin was in his final four innings, it was his first-inning troubles that led to the Nationals' loss. After Magglio Ordonez singled with two out in the first, Martin walked Jeff Larish and gave up hits to the next four batters. The inning could have been over quickly, but instead, it snowballed on him. "I thought he did a heck of a job, with the exception of, he had a four-hitter span in the first inning that cost him about five runs."
Tyler Walker: Walker gave up a run on two hits in his inning of work, raising his spring ERA back to 16.71. If Mike MacDougal makes the team, it's probably because the Nationals decided to give up on Walker.
Adam Dunn: Another difficult night for the first baseman at the plate -- he was 0-for-2, though he did walk and score a run. But he's hitting .167 this spring, and has yet to homer.
What to watch:
We're getting down to crunch time now, especially at shortstop and in the outfield, and the Nationals have plenty of players who are struggling to put their name on the roster. Mike Morse was 0-for-3 with a strikeout, and is now hitting .209 for the spring. "He was really swinging the bat well, and when he had to sit down four or five days (with the flu), he hasn't been the same since," Riggleman said. "It's kind of the nature of it." Justin Maxwell's average is .091, and Willy Taveras could bump him out of a roster spot. Riggleman and Rizzo both said on Thursday they believe they can get by with a platoon in the outfield, but that could change if the current group can't produce and the Nationals have to look outside.
J.D. Martin is almost out of time to make the rotation, though he's pitched respectably well this spring. Rizzo said he'd prefer to have the rotation battle go all the way to the end, though the Nationals don't have many adjustments to make to set the rotation for Opening Day. So maybe Martin's got another start to make his case, maybe he doesn't. But he's got his work cut out for him heading into the last week of camp.
The Cardinals return, yet again, to Space Coast Stadium for a 1:05 start with the Nationals. John Lannan gets the ball for Washington.