KISSIMMEE, Fla. - There are varying schools of thought - and frankly, quite a bit of gerrymandering - about how much spring training stats matter. It's difficult to prove any relationship between spring success and a good regular season, and some players, coaches and managers will jockey between one opinion or the other, depend on what suits them that day.
"Guys that go out there and get busted up, they say they're working on things," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "And then guys go out there and throw well, they say, 'Well, I felt really good today.' You don't hear them saying they were working on something."
But one thing most people will agree on is, it's more important to be playing good baseball toward the end of the spring, when starters are playing longer and more often. And at this point, there's no question the Nationals are playing good baseball.
They leafed through the Houston Astros on Saturday afternoon, winning 10-0 in a game where the Astros had as many errors as hits (2). The Nationals have now won five straight spring games, and have given up seven runs in that time.
"We've won five games in a row, and it doesn't escape you that we've averaged less than two runs (allowed) a game in those five games," manager Jim Riggleman said. "As much as we get excited about guys playing good and hitting and stuff, it's pitching. We've pitched good five days in a row, and we've won five games."
Here are today's awards:
Sean Burnett: When he came to the mound in the ninth inning, there was no shot of simulating a save situation, like Drew Storen got to do last night; the game was well out of hand. But Burnett did what he's been doing all spring, getting a couple quick groundouts on his sinker and throwing a slider for a called third strike. A year after having an awful spring, Burnett's ERA is still 0.00 headed into the last week of the exhibition season. "That's the way I've been going since day one," Burnett said. "There's a little open competition (for the closer's role), and I'm going to give it my best shot. I'm been trying to go out there and put up zeros the whole time. But most importantly, I have my sinker ready to go. It seems like it's there so far, and hopefully it will stay there during the regular season."
Michael Morse: He hit his eighth homer of the spring - and third in three games - when he blasted a two-run shot to right center in the second inning. More of the left fielder's homers have been opposite-field shots, and though it's tough for a righty to hit homers there at Nationals Park, Morse will be in good shape if he can keep taking the ball the other way. He also added a walk today.
Ivan Rodriguez: It remains to be seen how much Rodriguez will start after opening day, but he looked good on Saturday, going 2-for-4 with a run. He also threw out Brett Wallace trying to steal second in the second inning.
Danny Espinosa: Hard as it is to find these today, we've got to do our job. Espinosa was 0-for-4 with a strikeout, and left five men on base.
What to watch:
The Nationals have been doing something different with their relievers the last two games - they're no longer telling pitchers what inning they'll be throwing. Instead, they're calling down to the bullpen like they would during the regular season, and it seems to be working. Tyler Clippard was thrown off the last time the Nationals came to Kissimmee when he got up to warm up twice; on Saturday, he pitched a scoreless seventh inning. Pitchers will have to get up and sit down at times in the regular season, but they're at least moving into more realistic situations now. That's especially useful toward the beginning of the year, when the Nationals plan to mix and match relievers in the late innings of games. "Sometimes you say, 'Well, I've got the fifth inning,' and you wait and wait and wait, instead of just being down there, not having the anxiety of when you're going in the game," McCatty said. "Sometimes when you sit and think about it, you put a little more pressure on yourself. This is the time you want to do it. You want to finish up strong, absolutely."
Livan Hernandez left after four innings with a stiff neck after sleeping on it awkwardly, but it shouldn't be an issue on opening day.
Washington returns home for its second-to-last home game of the spring, taking on the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. Ross Detwiler will pitch for the Nationals, facing Adalberto Mendez. Both teams are pulling back a regular starter - John Lannan was scheduled to face Josh Johnson - to avoid showing a division opponent a pitcher they'll see multiple times during the season. The Nationals will do the same thing Monday against the Braves, and it's possible they'd do it Tuesday against the Mets, too. In football terms, things are definitely starting to take on a fourth-game-of-the-preseason feel.
Time to go watch some basketball with a few of the Nats writers at Kissimmee's hottest destination - Chili's. Talk to you tomorrow.