JUPITER, Fla. - For the first time this spring, the Nationals both lost a game and looked sloppy doing it. Their defense committed mistakes all day, and they compounded the problem with several baserunning gaffes. It's bound to happen at some point during spring training, but the Nationals' 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals certainly looked like a departure from the crisp, aggressive baseball they'd mostly played during the first three games of the spring schedule.
"We had a lot of ballgames just like that in spring training last year," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We've got to play better than that. We swung the bat pretty good. We ran the bases pretty good. But we made some mistakes defensively, we made some mistakes on the bases. The game had a little bit of everything."
Here is today's roundup:
Derek Norris: The Nationals' possible catcher of the future probably has a bat that could play in the majors sometime this year, and he showed it on Thursday. Norris got a 1-1 sinker from Maikel Clato in the eighth inning, and when the ball stayed up in the wind, he ripped it to left field for his first homer in a major league spring game. His combination of power and plate discipline is rare to find in a catcher, and once he refines his game behind the plate, he's got the chance to be a star.
Wilson Ramos: Ramos' presence at catcher is more immediate than Norris' is, and even though he DHed on Thursday, he attracted attention with his second multi-hit game of the spring. He went 2-for-3, driving in a run and scoring another. He probably has a slight edge on Jesus Flores for the second catcher's spot, and his play early in camp hasn't done anything to change that.
Rick Ankiel: He had a productive day at the plate, going 1-for-2 with a walk, stealing a base and scoring a run. Ankiel got a nice ovation from Cardinals fans at Roger Dean Stadium, and it's clear they still appreciate him after his odd ride through the majors.
Garrett Mock: To be fair, Mock's defense didn't help him in the fourth inning, when he gave up five runs. Only one of those was earned, and Danny Espinosa's error helped extend the inning. But so did Mock's three walks. He also gave up two hits and threw a wild pitch. The Nationals continue to give him chances because his stuff is so good. But Mock has never been able to put it together in the majors, and he continues to struggle to throw strikes and put hitters on the defensive. "I'm not frustrated with him. 'Cat' (Steve McCatty), as the pitching coach, I guess it's frustrating, but I take it as, it's his first time out there," Riggleman said. "You see the quality of stuff he has, you've got to try to be patient with him. The arm is there, the breaking stuff is there. We've been patient with him, and we'll continue to be."
Danny Espinosa: His fourth-inning error helped prolong Mock's inning, and Yadier Molina's sixth-inning single came after Espinosa and Bryce Harper let a ball fall between them. Espinosa was camped under the ball, but Harper called him off at the last second and the ball dropped. As the outfielder coming in on the ball, Harper has priority and probably needed to call it sooner. But Espinosa could have caught the ball, and it was just another play that involved him on a bad day. He did go 1-for-3 with a stolen base, though.
Michael Morse: He cooled off at the plate after an impressive start to the spring, going 0-for-4. But he also made a poor throw from first base in the fourth inning, throwing behind Ivan Rodriguez at the plate and taking him out of line to tag Zack Cox, who scored on the play.
What to watch:
Mock has yet to show he can put it together in the majors, despite a four-pitch arsenal that features a good fastball and sharp breaking stuff. McCatty's frustration with him is warranted, as it would be with any pitcher who struggles so mightily to translate great stuff into results. He doesn't seem to have much chance to make the team, but the Nationals are reluctant to part with him because they don't want to run the risk that he puts it all together somewhere else. He was drafted in Arizona by Mike Rizzo, and Rizzo's knowledge of the pitcher was a big part of why the Nationals traded for him in 2006. But at some point, the Nationals could need a roster spot and may have to make a decision on Mock.
The Nationals return home to Space Coast Stadium, with Jason Marquis getting his first start of the spring in a 1:05 contest against the Braves. Atlanta has split-squad games tomorrow, so it's likely the Nationals could get a lineup full of minor leaguers and young players. The degree of difficulty will spike on Saturday, though, when they travel to Tampa to face CC Sabathia and the Yankees.
Time to hit the road and head back north. Talk to you tomorrow.