VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals' scrappy little spring wagon rolled on today, and the team is now 2-0 after a 5-3 win over the Mets at Space Coast Stadium. That's two more wins than the team recorded in the first 11 games of spring training last year. And us reporters, being the enterprising sort we are, only need two games before we start talking about a trend.
There is a different feel in camp this year; Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen both said the team feels more united than it did last season. But it's awfully easy to talk about a new mentality and play aggressively in the first days of spring, when legs are still fresh and spring monotony hasn't set in. "The key is to keep it going through the spring and the early part of the year, where it becomes the way you play the game," manager Jim Riggleman said.
Here are today's awards:
Espinosa: His fourth-inning homer, a two-run shot off Manuel Alvarez, showcased what the Nationals hope he can be - a threat from both sides of the plate who can hit 15-20 homers a year in the majors. Batting right-handed, Espinosa took a ball out to right field, over the 20-foot fence - an impressive shot for the 23-year-old second baseman. If he can add some pop at the bottom of the lineup, it'll make a big difference for an offense I expect to find itself one batter too short on occasion.
Ross Detwiler: In his first start of the spring, Detwiler showed some of the stuff that's made him one of the early camp success stories. He struck out three batters in two innings, giving up two hits but flashing a lively fastball and a curveball that should get better as he gets more work. His new mechanics, so far, seem to be making a difference. As Detwiler gets into three- and four-inning outings and works through a lineup more than once, it'll be interesting to see if he can keep up the results.
Chris Marrero: He went 2-for-2 at the plate and made a nice catch against the Nationals' dugout railing in the third inning. Defense has been what's kept Marrero from positioning himself as the team's first baseman of the future, and while he's still got some work to do in the field, he's gotten much better. He did make a poor decision when he belatedly tried to go from second to third on a grounder to third in the third inning, getting thrown out in a 5-3-5 double play. But he looked good at the plate and, more importantly, in the field.
Storen: It was his first outing of the spring, and Storen was on the mound working on a few things. But he got hit around in the ninth inning, allowing two runs and three hits. It's hard to judge relievers in spring training, but Storen gave a pretty good self-assessment. "I'm trying to work my spots a little bit more," Storen said. "I threw a couple really good (ones) that I was really happy with, but you don't have that feel all the way yet. I was happy with it, because I threw some good pitches. I didn't execute the big ones when I needed to, and that's what kind of hurt me."
Nyjer Morgan: He's 0-for-6 in two games, and had a bad-looking bunt for the second time in as many days when he popped one up in the third inning. He did make an impressive diving catch to save a run in the second inning, but the Nationals' would-be leadoff hitter is off to a slow start.
What to watch:
Bryce Harper got his first hit today, singling off Pedro Beato in the fifth inning. He took a high fastball the other way for a base hit to left, and there was plenty to like about everything he did from yesterday to today. He struck out twice in his debut, and said he went home last night and laughed off the two Ks. Then, he came back today and watched film of his swing, comparing to old film he'd had of his swing from the College of Southern Nevada. Harper found that he might have been letting his hands get too far from his body, and he tweaked the swing today. That's how major leaguers work. It's not how most 18-year-olds think. And beyond the obvious reasons the Nationals love Harper, things like this are a big part of the package. "That's a great stroke to be able to get on top of a high fastball," Riggleman said. "You've got to be a good hitter to get on top of a good high fastball, and he did it there."
And while Morgan isn't in trouble yet, he'll need to pull himself out of an early funk sooner than later. Rick Ankiel will start tomorrow, and I'd assume either he or Roger Bernadina will play center after Morgan has played the last two days. One scout I talked to today thinks there could end up being more competition in center field than people have assumed. We'll see how that plays out.
If you've got any questions or anything you'd like to read about, leave your thoughts in the comments section. Otherwise, I'll talk to you tomorrow.