PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - We've been hearing all winter about the more aggressive, more athletic Nationals, the ones who would do with pluck, hustle and defensive smarts what they'd previously tried to do with power. As much as one spring training game can set a tone for that kind of thing, Monday's 9-3 win over the New York Mets in the spring opener did that for the Nationals.
They mashed out 14 hits, getting a pair of two-run homers from Michael Morse. But they also took extra bases, beat out bunts and advanced on pitches in the dirt. In their first game, the Nationals laid down a nice baseline performance.
"That's the message (the coaches) delivered, and we kind of carried it out today," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We put a little pressure on them, and that's what happens."
On with our spring training recap. For those of you unfamiliar with the format, here's how it works: Since my last name, incorrectly pronounced, sounds like the name of a baby goose, "Goose" was the nickname I got on the staff of the Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota (If you haven't figured out the correct pronunciation, the punny name of this blog should help with that). Anyway, I'll give out a few "Golden Geese" for players who performed well in that day's game, and a couple "Goose Eggs" for players who didn't look so good. Then, I'll close things out with a couple points to keep in mind. Here we go:
Morse: Entering a spring where he'll have to fight with several other outfielders for playing time, Morse made an emphatic case for himself in the first game. He hit a pair of two-run homers, crushing a slider off Taylor Tankersley to left in the seventh and taking a fastball the other way off Ryota Igarashi in the ninth. He also moved to third base and made a nice stop and throw in the eighth inning. "It always feels good to hit the ball solid," Morse said. "The first at-bat, you're a little jittery. I just calmed down and got back to myself."
Wilson Ramos: Like Morse, the catcher is also fighting for a roster spot this spring. He began the exhibition season by stinging a pair of pitches for a second-inning single and fourth-inning double. He also ran the bases well, going from first to third on an error by Luis Castillo, advancing from second to third on an error by D.J. Carrasco and sliding under a tag at home to score on a fielder's choice. A good, hard effort from the young catcher.
Desmond: He went 2-for-3 with a pair of extra-base hits, driving a ball deep in the first inning that became a triple when Angel Pagan had trouble handling it. Desmond also double to right in the fifth, scoring runs on both of his hits. His throw to Kevin Barker on a second-inning double play was a little low and wide, but he was mostly solid in the field, and sharp at the plate. "I found something that I was doing back at the end of '08, early '09, something I wasn't doing (at the plate) last year," Desmond said. "Hopefully I can continue to work on it and get better this year."
Craig Stammen: He got the win, but he wasn't particularly sharp in two innings. Stammen walked the first batter he saw, then bounced a pitch that sent Scott Hairston to second base. Stammen gave up two more hits in the inning, and allowed a double to Fernando Martinez in the fifth. He's probably looking at a shot to make the team in long relief, but he didn't start well on Monday.
Nyjer Morgan: Morgan led the game off by fouling out to third, after hitting a number of balls in the air during batting practice. He struggled to get a bunt down in his second at-bat, dribbling one in front of the plate, and grounded into a double play in his final at-bat of the day.
What to Watch:
I intentionally haven't mentioned much about Bryce Harper in this post, since we've devoted plenty of pixels to him elsewhere. But it will be interesting to see how quickly he adjusts in the handful of games he'll play before going to minor league camp. Asked to recall his first big league spring game at age 19, Desmond said, "I was thinking, 'Man, I can play up here, I can play up here.' I was just playing out of my mind back then. It's fun to look back. It was something like, 'Swing, swing, swing, and maybe you'll hit it.'" That's a little of what Harper went through today.
Keep an eye on Jesus Flores, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel, who will have to match Ramos and Morse to carve out playing time this spring. Bernadina was solid today, going 2-for-2 with a walk, RBI and stolen base, but Flores showed some rust in his first game in two years. We'll see Ankiel tomorrow. But in a pair of spots where there's going to be competition this spring, Ramos and Morse made strong first statements.
The Nationals open their home portion of the spring schedule tomorrow with another game against the Mets, this one at Space Coast Stadium at 1:10 p.m. Livan Hernandez, who's projected to be the team's opening day starter, will be on the mound for Washington.
Thanks for hanging out in our live thread today. We'll do those most days during the spring, mixing in a few live chats during games, too. If you've got other questions about the team, or things you'd like to read about, you can always leave those in the comments section. I'm also going to work on cobbling together some audio and/or video this week, either in the form of a podcast or a video blog. Let me know if you've got ideas or things you'd like to see there.
Time to hit the road. Talk to you tomorrow in Viera.