The Nationals lost 3-1 to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night. But when you consider the lineup the Nationals brought to Tampa (Josh Whitesell hit cleanup), the fact the Yankees essentially fielded their Opening Day lineup and the start Livan Hernandez had (five innings, three hits and one run), it almost felt like a win.
There were certainly enough positive developments for the Nationals to make it feel that way. Most of them centered around Hernandez, the 35-year-old right-hander signed to give the Nationals a veteran innings-eater. His fastball topped out around 86 mph -- actually a good reading for Hernandez -- but he was sharp with his location and pitched out of a couple jams. He also struck out Mark Teixeira twice -- once on a four-seam fastball, the other on a two-seamer down and away.
"I feel very good," Hernandez said. "Facing that lineup, it's not easy. But if you keep the ball down, it's hard for people to hit."
Manager Jim Riggleman wouldn't say for sure Hernandez is in the rotation, but at this point, it seems hard to believe he won't be there. "He's really competed well to earn one of those spots," Riggleman said. "Hopefully he'll continue to do that and show us he belongs in that rotation."
Livan Hernandez: The outing was vintage Hernandez -- location, escapes from jams and an ability to change speeds. The Nationals got him for precisely this reason, and if he can pitch like he did on Wednesday, he'll be in the rotation.
Brian Bruney: Another strong night for the former Yankees reliever, who turned in a perfect inning against his old team. His ERA for the spring is now down to 3.00 after a disastrous start to the year, and he looks ready to go.
The Miami racquetball scene: We're deviating from the usual script tonight, because what Livan Hernandez had to say about his offseason workout regimen was just too funny: Hernandez got in shape this winter by playing racquetball every day with the locals (read: seniors) at a gym in Miami. "One guy there, he beat me like 11 times. I never beat him," Hernandez said. "It's something I like." Riggleman has commented about how Hernandez is in great shape this spring. That's the secret, apparently.
Jason Bergmann: After Hernandez held the Yankees to one run in five innings, Bergmann gave up two runs on four hits in his one inning. "He was alright. A couple (sliders) hung in the zone a little bit," Riggleman said. "I've got a lot of confidence in Bergy. He's crisp out there, his arm feels good. I think when the bell rings, he'll be fine."
Justin Maxwell: We hate to keep picking on Maxwell, but he's having a pretty rough go of it right now. He's hitting .093 this spring after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Wednesday night. He's helped by the fact that Roger Bernadina and Mike Morse are also struggling at the plate, but Maxwell needs to turn things around soon.
Willy Taveras: After singling in the third inning, Taveras got thrown out stealing second -- on a tag that was pretty easy to see on replays -- and was tossed by second-base umpire Chad Fairchild for arguing the call. It's been a controversial spring for Taveras (remember the inside-the-park grand slam against the Mets?). Good thing for him he's hitting .333.
What to watch:
Cristian Guzman made a couple of throws without any problem at shortstop, but again wasn't really challenged on anything. Riggleman said after the game he believes Guzman has the strength to let it go if he needs to, but just hasn't tried to fire a throw at 100 percent yet. The Nationals still need to see him do that, and they may eventually get to a point where they conduct an infield drill or two to push his arm.
Hernandez's start, coupled with Scott Olsen's outing on Tuesday, makes the next round of starts all the more important. It's essentially the last chance for Olsen to win a spot over Hernandez or Craig Stammen, who has also pitched well. Riggleman said he'd like to have the starting rotation figured out by this weekend, though, so if you see starters moving their days around, it probably means the final decision has been made.
The Nationals return home for their final night game of the spring, playing host to the Tigers in a 7:05 start. J.D. Martin will take the mound for the Nationals, in what is probably his last bid for a rotation spot.
The live thread from tonight is available here -- check it out if only to offer tech support for my computer issues -- and there's quite a bit of Riggleman/Rizzo audio from today here. Talk to you tomorrow!