JUPITER, Fla. - As much as any game the Nationals have played this spring, Sunday's 5-1 victory over the Marlins represented the way they want to win games this year. They jumped out to an early lead, got a superb performance from their one starter who might have the upside to become a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, turned a couple hits into outs with impressive defensive play and iced the game with some (mostly) good work from their bullpen.
It's not quite representative of a regular season game, because both teams' lineups and bullpens were missing some pieces, but it's at least an idea of how the Nationals want to do things.
"It was a good, crisp game," manager Jim Riggleman said, "Pitching is so important. You pitch good, you've got a good chance to win."
Here are today's awards:
Jordan Zimmermann: In what was easily his best outing of the spring, the 24-year-old had good command of all his pitches, particularly his sharp curveball. He allowed just three hits and a walk in five shutout innings. The Marlins had a couple hard-hit balls on pitches up in the zone, and seven of Zimmermann's 15 outs were on fly balls, but he was impressive overall. And he still hasn't allowed a run this spring. "The first couple starts, (my curveball) was hit-or-miss if it was going to be good or not," Zimmermann said. "But I had good feel today. Every time I got the call, I knew it was going to have a good, sharp downward bite to it."
Rick Ankiel: He went 2-for-5 with four RBI, and had a particularly impressive at-bat against lefty specialist Randy Choate in the second inning. Ankiel, a career .232 hitter against left-handers, got a fastball up from Choate and drove it to left center for a two-run double. If he can hit consistently, he's got a chance to be a real contributor for the Nationals this year.
Jayson Werth: The right fielder was impressive for the second straight game, going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. He's only hitting .200 this spring, but is 3-for-7 in his last three games.
Henry Rodriguez: The flame-throwing right-hander finally made his first appearance of the spring, and while he was sitting between 95 and 97 mph on one scout's radar gun for most of his outing, only eight of his 24 pitches were strikes. He walked three batters, gave up a hit and retired only one, finally getting pulled in the middle of the sixth inning. Through interpreter Jesus Flores, Rodriguez said he wasn't 100 percent in his first appearance, adding his front side was opening up during his delivery and causing his pitches to go off-line. He's had control problems in the past, but the Nationals will roll the dice on him because of his big arm (A sidenote: Flores, whose English was spotty at best when he came to the Nationals, gets a special Golden Goose for serving as translator. It's remarkable how far his English has come in four years).
Eury Perez: The Nationals put the 20-year-old outfielder in left field for a few innings, and he made a comically bad misread of a fly ball in the sixth inning, letting Chris Coghlan's double fall several feet to his left. It appeared from the press box like Perez - who might be the Nationals' center fielder of the future - lost the ball in the sun. He went 0-for-1 at the plate.
What to watch:
Danny Espinosa, who got hit in the head by a pitch in the first inning, stayed in the game after taking a few seconds to collect himself at the plate. He didn't show any signs of a concussion, and said the pitch went off the top of his helmet, rather than hitting him squarely. "It was just more surprising to get me like that," Espinosa said. "I've never had anything like that."
And Nyjer Morgan, who brawled with the Marlins last year after he railroaded catcher Brett Hayes at home plate and got thrown at twice in retaliation, was hit by the first pitch of the game. The center fielder didn't appear happy about it walking to first base, and promptly stole second base. Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco said the pitch slipped out of his hand, which seems like a plausible explanation; he was making his first start of the spring after a thumb injury, and also drilled Espinosa. Said Riggleman: "I really don't even want to comment on it, because of all the history from last year. Enough's been said about it. Ricky's the only one who knows if he threw at him or not."
Finally, Riggleman called this the best defensive game the Nationals have played this spring. Espinosa made a fantastic play in the third inning, going deep in the hole behind second base and throwing in midair to get Petersen. Adam LaRoche also made a nice pick of a low throw, and Riggleman said he was happy with the way his outfielders communicated on a few balls to the gaps. As the Nationals put more of their regulars on the field, they need to show that kind of defense more consistently.
The Nationals return to Space Coast Stadium for a 1:05 p.m. start Monday, facing the Detroit Tigers for the first time this spring. Jason Marquis will be on the mound for Washington.
I'll have plenty more from there tomorrow. Talk to you then.