When the Nationals started the spring 0-11, the talk in the clubhouse was about how little the record mattered. All the team was looking for, its players and manager said, was a progression toward the end of spring, a sign that the team was headed in the right direction.
After the 0-11 start, as familiar names start to dot the lineup card and pitchers work deeper into games, the Nationals are 10-7. They won for the 10th time on Thursday, beating the Mets 9-3 in one of their sharper games of the spring.
Jason Marquis allowed three runs in five innings, keeping the ball down in the strike zone more than he has most of the spring. Four relievers pitched shutout innings, and the Nationals had a combined 17 hits and walks.
"I think we've made a lot of progress the last couple weeks," manager JIm Riggleman said. "That's what we want to do -- keep making progress and keep the needle moving forward.
Josh Willingham: The left fielder blasted his fifth home run of the spring off John Maine in the fourth inning, hitting a shot over the double-decker billboards in left field. He drove in three runs, and is hitting .370 this spring.
Jason Marquis: He gave up six hits in five innings, but held the Mets to three runs in that time, two of them coming on a homer. Marquis got 10 groundball outs in that time, and struck out four. He's looking more in command of his stuff than he has all spring, and seems ready to go for his first start against the Phillies next Wednesday.
Jason Bergmann: Bergmann has struggled recently, but he pitched a perfect seventh inning, making a strong impression with the final bullpen spots still up for grabs. He seems like a safe bet to make the team, but it never hurts to pitch like he did Thursday.
Adam Kennedy: He went 0-for-4, and is now hitting .259 for the spring. When Cristian Guzman is hitting as well as he has been lately, Kennedy could get pushed for playing time.
Alberto Gonzalez: 0-for-2, and left two runners on. He makes the list only because there wasn't much to complain about today.
Mike Morse: Same deal as Gonzalez -- he's only here because the Nats played so well. Morse was 0-for-2 with a strikeout after pinch-hitting for Brian Bruney and moving to first base.
What to watch:
There were plenty of little developments from this game that could offer some hints for how the Nats will manage their roster. The most interesting one was in the ninth inning, when Cristian Guzman played right field. He didn't see any action there, but it's the first hint of Guzman becoming the super-utility player Riggleman once saw Desmond being. "Maybe the team wants to give me different positions to see where I'm at," Guzman said. Kennedy also shifted from second to first after Adam Dunn came out of the game. Riggleman said before the game that Willie Harris and Willy Taveras will make up most of the right-field platoon, which means the Nationals will need other players (Guzman and Mike Morse, especially) to take up some of Harris' utility role.
The Nationals also had four relievers -- Brian Bruney, Bergmann, Sean Burnett and Tyler Walker -- throw scoreless innings on Thursday. Considering the fact the last three in that group have been struggling lately -- and really, the last two have been struggling all spring -- it was a sign the relievers might be settling down a little.
The Nationals travel to Fort Myers for their Grapefruit League finale tomorrow, facing the Red Sox in a 1:05 start. Scott Olsen will make his final start of the spring -- and his final case to win the No. 5 rotation spot away from Garrett Mock.
I won't be in attendance for that one; I'm heading back north a day early to get settled at home before Saturday's exhibition against the Red Sox at Nationals Park. That's a 4:05 start, and we'll have both a TV broadcast and a live thread for that one, as well as the rest of the games from here on out. And don't forget -- we're doing a meetup at 3:00 in the Red Porch on Saturday. I'll have a few more details before then, but I'll definitely be wearing my media credentials, so you can find me that way.
Thanks for all your participation in the live threads this spring. They've been a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing them grow during the season as all of you can watch the games and add your own insight to things. Today's live thread is here, and Riggleman audio is here.
I'll have a few updates from the Nats-Red Sox game tomorrow once my flight lands. Check back for those throughout the day. Talk to you tomorrow!