VIERA, Fla. - How should we put this diplomatically? We've played three innings at Space Coast Stadium, and the highlights of the evening have been nowhere near the field.
About a half-hour after the game started, a Delta IV rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, sending fans to the concourse to snap pictures and video as it shot into the sky. And as it cleared the top of the stadium, fans in the stands - and Nationals players in the dugout - were more preoccupied with that than what was happening on the field.
That might be just as well, because so far, this has been one of the Nationals' worst efforts of the spring.
Livan Hernandez lasted just three innings, two less than he was expected to pitch tonight, after throwing 77 pitches in that time. The Astros were generating plenty of solid contact off Hernandez, but his defense didn't help him much.
Nyjer Morgan let a ball fall in front of him for a hit, had another bounce off his glove as he charged it, and saw another bounce beyond him on the warning track. And in the top of the fourth inning, he aggressively undercut a fly bal, trying to catch it rather than stopping it for a single, and the Astros scored a run on Clint Barmes' triple.
Ryan Zimmerman also had a ball go past him, which was called a hit because of a bad bounce, and Ian Desmond had a ball go under his glove on a ball to his left. It was called an error, though he never made contact with it, and it seemed comparable enough to Zimmerman's ball that both should have gotten the same treatment. But in any case, the Nationals played shoddy defense behind Hernandez, and it came from three of their most important fielders. That's where their pitch-to-contact and catch-the-ball strategy will be stressed: if their defense is as poor as it was last year, they probably don't have the pitchers to survive.
Offensively, the Nationals have just one a hit - a Michael Morse single in the second inning. They're trailing the Astros 5-0 in the fourth inning. But hey, how about that rocket launch!