LAKELAND, Fla. - The Nationals' spring skid, which spanned seven losses in seven days last week and ended on Sunday, looks firmly and fully out of their system at this point. They won their third straight game Thursday night, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-2 in a game that featured plenty of things to like and very few to be worried about.
Jordan Zimmermann, working with a fastball that touched 96 mph and a sharp backdoor slider to lefties, struck out six in five innings. Jayson Werth homered for the first time this spring, Michael Morse hit his seventh homer of the spring and Rick Ankiel went 2-for-3 with a walk. Tyler Clippard threw two shutout innings, signaling he might be headed in the right direction, and Brian Broderick dropped his spring ERA to 0.66. It was, in total, a sharp performance for the Nationals.
Here are tonight's awards:
Zimmermann: His stuff was as good as it's been all spring, and working with Ivan Rodriguez, Zimmermann was in a groove most of the night. He got himself in a little trouble in the second and third innings, especially, when he rushed through his delivery and gave up a couple hits. But he ended the second with an impressive backdoor slider to Alex Avila, and struck out Magglio Ordonez looking with runners on first and third in the third inning. "I kept the ball down well tonight," Zimmermann said. "The fastball, I felt I could throw wherever I wanted tonight. That was probably the best control I've had with that in a long time."
Werth: In his 39th at-bat of the spring, the Nationals' new No. 2 hitter blasted the first pitch of his fifth-inning matchup with Rick Porcello to left for his first homer in a Washington uniform. He added a bloop single in the first inning to score Nyjer Morgan, and finished the night 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.
Clippard: He entered the night with a 12.79 spring ERA, but the right-hander was as sharp as he's been this spring in two innings of work. Clippard faced just seven batters, striking out two and allowing one hit, inducing some ugly hacks at his high fastball. "That's a pitch that I need to have," Clippard said. "It works in my favor, because it's tough for guys to lay off that. When I'm getting some bad swings on that pitch, in particular, everything kind of falls into place."
Morgan: Things started well enough for the center fielder, who was DHing and leading off tonight; he beat out an infield single, stole second and scored on Werth's blooper, doing exactly what the Nationals want him to do at the top of the lineup. But he struck out in his last three at-bats, finishing 1-for-4 on a night where Ankiel added some solid plays in the field to his 2-for-3 night. Morgan will be in center field tomorrow, and is running out of time to make his case to start the year there.
Danny Espinosa: Batting ninth, the second baseman went 0-for-4, striking out twice. His spring average, though, is still at .302.
Todd Coffey: He gave up a pair of runs in the ninth, allowing two hits after the Tigers hadn't scored for eight innings.
What to watch:
There was a nice moment for Ian Desmond in the fifth inning, when he lofted a seemingly harmless fly ball to right. He hustled out the play, though, and wound up with a double when it fell between Austin Jackson and Ordonez. "You jog down the line because you're frustrated, you've got to work that frustration out by running hard," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He did. He ran hard, and the next thing you know, he's on second because they lost the ball. The sky was real tough at that moment, and he gets a double out of it because he ran."
Zimmermann will get one more outing this spring, and while he could be the No. 2 starter to begin the year, it's almost a lock he'll pitch the third game of the year. He is scheduled to pitch the spring finale on Tuesday, which would mean he'd be in line to pitch on regular rest a week from Sunday in the third game of the season. John Lannan would be on regular rest to pitch the second game.
The Nationals return to Viera for another night game - MASN's final telecast of the spring - when they take on the Cardinals at 6:05 p.m. Tom Gorzelanny will be on the mound for the Nationals in his final outing of the spring.
Time to hit the road and see how much of this Wisconsin-Butler game I can catch. Talk to you tomorrow.