With the Nationals' 6-1 loss to the Red Sox at Nationals Park on Saturday, spring training is officially over -- and not a moment too soon, in my opinion. No more guesses on the 25-man roster (which was finalized this afternoon). No more reading in to results that mean nothing in the final accounting of the season. And no more games where matchups and strategy are non-factors.
We're playing for real as of Monday afternoon, when the Nationals take on the defending National League champion Phillies. The Nationals are out of time to settle whatever uncertainties they've still got on the roster. It's time to go.
The way they played Saturday afternoon uncovered few new insights about the team heading into the regular season. But for two bad pitches, both of which were hit for home runs, Craig Stammen was solid. The Nationals' bullpen allowed three runs, one coming in another shaky outing for Sean Burnett, and they ran through a long list of hitters against Boston starters Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Barring any last-minute trades -- and there are no indications the Nationals are close to a deal for a right fielder, despite some efforts to acquire one -- they'll open the season Monday and see what they've got.
On to the final edition of the Official Unoffical Spring Training Rating System (OUSTRS): the Golden Geese and Goose Eggs:
Craig Stammen: Yes, he made a couple of bad pitches -- he was the first to admit the home run balls to Kevin Youkilis and J.D. drew were his fault -- and he was also overthrowing a bit. But Stammen settled down after a rough start, retiring eight straight at one point, and made it clear he'll be ready to pitch in the regular season. "I felt alright," Stammen said. "I kind of gathered myself up a little bit. The first two home runs, they weren't good pitches. They got away from me a little bit. But after that, I made some good pitches and got some ground balls."
Adam Dunn: The first baseman finished the spring with a .208 average and no homers, though he did push a single down the third-base line on Saturday. But he's here for a heretofore unlikely reason: His glove. Dunn registered 11 putouts, displaying soft hands on a couple early ground balls and even making an impressive diving stop on a grounder to his right to take away a base hit. It's difficult to understate how much Dunn can help the Nationals -- and the chances of a contract extension with the team -- by playing even passable defense at first.
Matt Capps: After struggling most of the spring, Capps finished the exhibition season with a sharp appearance against the Red Sox. He struck out Jason Varitek on a 93-mph fastball; though it was a little high in the zone, the pitch showed some late life and was out of Varitek's reach. Then, Capps froze Bill Hall on a 95-mph fastball.
Sean Burnett: The reliever said after the game all his pitches have gotten sharper throughout the spring, and he isn't going to worry about struggling the entire exhibition season. "I've had so many good spring trainings and never made the team," Burnett said. "April 5 comes around, and it doesn't matter how good you were in spring training, or how bad you were. It's a fresh start." Still, Burnett gave up two hits and a run in three batters, and finished the spring with a 12.38 ERA.
Miguel Batista: He'll be the Nationals' long man out of the bullpen, but he got hit on Saturday, allowing two runs in 2/3 of an inning while giving up one hit and walking one.
Josh Willingham: The left fielder, who had an outstanding spring, finished it by going 0-for-3, and came just short of catching up to a Tug Hulett line drive that went for a double.
What to watch:
The day Dunn had in the field might have been the strongest showing at first base he's had since taking the position over on an everyday basis. It's certainly the best he's looked all spring. He showed soft hands and good reflexes, and simply looked more fluid than he has all spring around the bag. Manager Jim Riggleman has said he believes Dunn's improvement on defense will show the more he plays there. If he were to solidify that position, it would make the Nationals much more willing to get his contract extension done. It would also solidify the infield defensively. Nobody expects Dunn to become a Gold Glover, but he's shown flashes of being able to make the plays he's expected to make on a consistent basis. Stops like the one he made on Saturday are just a bonus.
Scott Olsen lost out on the final rotation spot to Garrett Mock on Saturday, and wasn't in a mood to talk about it afterward. "Call my agent," he said simply. Riggleman said Olsen wasn't happy with the news, but how he handles it will dictate the rest of his season. He's now in a crowded group of pitchers that will be fighting to get to the major-league rotation, and once Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler and Stephen Strasburg enter the picture, Olsen's odds of getting a rotation spot will get even longer. He can't afford a slow start at Syracuse.
Opening Day is finally here. After a Sunday workout at Nationals Park, the Nationals will take on the Phillies at 1:05 on Monday. John Lannan will oppose Roy Halladay, and President Obama will throw out the first pitch. The Nationals have been saying this as often as they can, and I'll say it again here: If you're going to the game, get there early. Your stuff will be examined by Secret Service, and there will be long lines and large crowds both inside and outside the stadium. Leave plenty of time if you want to get there in time for the southpaw-in-chief's pitch.
Thanks again for hanging out on the live thread today. The recap is here, and audio from the day is here. It'll be a slow day around here tomorrow -- I'll be celebrating Easter for a good portion of the day -- but I'll check in with a few things. I'll do a post on some of our plans tomorrow, but I'd like to hear about what kinds of things you want to see during the regular season -- particularly from the live threads as they transition into games you'll now be attending and watching on TV. If you'd toss some of your ideas into the comments section of this post, and the one I'll put up tomorrow, I'd appreciate it. Talk to you later!