PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Nationals' fifth win of the spring was probably also their hardest to characterize. There were some encouraging signs (Nyjer Morgan finally looked like a force at the top of the lineup), some uneventful performances (Jordan Zimmermann's start) and some bad days (the defense made two more errors, including one by Ian Desmond). In the end, Washington made up for a blown lead and tipped the Mets in 10 innings, but this is probably a spring game best viewed through individual parts.
So, we'll get right into looking at those individual parts. Here are today's awards:
Morgan: For the first time this spring, the Nationals' presumptive leadoff hitter was effective at the top of the lineup, getting on base four times in five plate appearances, stealing two bases and bunting his way on for one of his two hits. He was thrown out stealing second in the first inning, but manager Jim Riggleman pulled Morgan aside after the play and gave him a few words of reinforcement. "I said, 'You know what? It seems like they throw the ball right on the button (every time),'" Riggleman said. "He never gets a break. ... I just want him to stay positive and realize the catcher made a great throw. He's aggressive. When Nyjer's out there, they're on their A-game as far as trying to stop him from running. He's not going to sneak up on anybody with one." For his part, Morgan wasn't going to read too much into, or say too much about, the performance. But the fact that he was trying to make things happen through aggression is what the Nationals want to see.
Michael Morse: There must be something about Digital Domain Park that brings out the best in Morse. He's hit all three of his homers this spring in the two games he's played there, and he added another hit to his day on Tuesday. He's back up to a .400 batting average this spring, and made a strong throw home in the sixth inning, giving Derek Norris a chance to tag out Daniel Murphy. If Morse is going to win regular playing time, it's going to be because he proves his bat is too strong for the Nationals to keep out of the lineup. He's making a nice case for himself so far - and it doesn't hurt the Nationals return to Port St. Lucie twice more.
Adam Carr: He pitched the ninth and tenth innings, stranding a runner on second to send the game into extras and pitching a perfect 10th to ice the win. He's one of the Nationals' better young relief prospects; he's going to have a hard time making the team in a crowded field, but he's looked good so far. "I'm not comfy," Carr said. "I'm just throwing the innings they give me, and going from there." When was the last time you heard a professional athlete use the word 'comfy' in a sentence?
Desmond: You can live with an 0-for-3 day at the plate, and he did steal a base after a walk, but the error the shortstop made should stick in his craw a little. He stayed back on a ball he should have charged, and it ate him up when it took a hard hop toward him. He's got two errors in the his two games - one throwing, one fielding. "He's got to come and get that ball. He knows that," Riggleman said. "That's part of the process. I'm sure he'll be more aggressive on the next one."
Atahualpa Severino: The left-hander got rocked in his one inning of work, giving up a hit and then allowing a homer to Cory Vaughn (who is the son of former major leaguer Greg Vaughn and a former college teammate of Stephen Strasburg's). The homer tied the game and eventually sent it into extra innings.
What to watch:
There are a couple things on my mind after this one - the errors and Morgan's big day. Riggleman has compartmentalized the errors this spring, putting more stock into ones committed by players who are likely to be in his lineup. Desmond and Danny Espinosa have two each, and Morse and Ivan Rodriguez have one. Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Alex Cora, who also could see plenty of time, each have an error, too. There are going to be a few here and there, but the middle infielders are the ones to watch. "We address it every day," Riggleman said. "We take a 15- or 20-minutes slot every day for nothing but isolated ground balls, each guy at his position, just pounding ground balls, making throws, turning double plays, just like every club in spring training. You just do it, and it'll get better or it won't.
As for Morgan, the big key is his ability to get on base. The Nationals have repeatedly said they'd take a .350 on-base percentage from Morgan this season, and his career average of .344 suggests he can get in that ballpark (though the 136 games he played last season were the most he's played in a year, and he was at .319). But new third base coach Bo Porter, who is in charge of the running game, wants to stress an 80 percent success rate on steals, and is telling players to be more selective about when they run. Morgan's career success rate on steals is 68.6 percent, and as Riggleman suggested, teams are making a concerted effort to shut him down. If the Nationals are going to be more selective about when they run, Morgan's either going to have to bring his success rate up or make sure he gets on base enough to provide value. I was talking to Porter about this the other day, and we agreed that if you're fast enough to steal a base, you're fast enough to score from first on a double. That might turn out to be more of Morgan's game this year - get on base, force the defense to open up a hole between first and second and do more running with the ball in play.
Speaking of sparkplug center fielders, Eury Perez - one of the Nationals' top prospects - made his first appearance of the spring today. The 20-year-old singled in the 10th, stole second and scored a run. And as Riggleman pointed out, he didn't get a great jump on the steal. "He outran the ball to steal that base," he said.
The Nationals head back to their other home away from home - Jupiter - for a 1:05 start against the Marlins. Jason Marquis will be on the mound for Washington, making his second start of the spring.
Time to start the drive back. Thanks for the questions for Ryan Tatusko today - I talked to him this morning, so I didn't get to those of you who submitted questions during the day. But we're going to try to do this a couple times this spring, so now I've got a good set of questions for next time. Talk to you later!