Arroyo impresses in first appearance versus hitters since surgery

VIERA, Fla - It was one inning of relief, three batters faced, in an intrasquad game played before noon in front of several dozen fans on the final day of February. Not typically the kind of setting evaluators put much stock in when watching ballplayers.

For Bronson Arroyo, this did carry significance. He hadn't faced any live hitters in anything resembling an actual baseball game since June 15, 2014, his last appearance in a major league stadium.

This was Arroyo's first chance to make a lasting impression on the Nationals, who are tasked this spring to decide if the 39-year-old right-hander still has what it takes to get big league hitters out despite a reconstructed elbow that hasn't been tested like this in a year and a half.

And the first impression was a positive one.

Bronson-Arroyo-Arizona-sidebar.jpg"He was sharper than I expected," manager Dusty Baker said, adding: "I didn't see him labor at all. His delivery and everything, it all looked the same. Sometimes a guy is hurt, you start to see him cutting them off or whatever. But he's got some miles left in him."

That's certainly what Arroyo hopes to prove.

Signed to a minor league deal this winter, the veteran pitcher is trying to bring his career to a close on his own terms. He could have retired after 15 big league seasons, 145 wins and Tommy John surgery. Instead, he's giving it one more shot, trying to force his way into a Nationals rotation that already has five starters with either long-term track records (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) or real potential (Joe Ross, Tanner Roark).

"You never really know what's going on in the minds of the front office and the coaching staff, and what exactly they're looking for," Arroyo said. "But I think they wouldn't have brought me to camp unless they were just looking for somebody to be consistent and give the team an opportunity to have a quality start 20 times a year."

Arroyo knows he's not the type of pitcher who is going to turn heads with pure stuff at this juncture of his career. So each time he takes the mound this spring, he recognizes he has to show not only that he's healthy but also that his pitches are sharp.

He was sharp in today's intrasquad game. He got prospect Wilmer Difo to ground out to second. He struck out Michael A. Taylor looking at a fastball. And he struck out minor leaguer Scott Sizemore swinging at a breaking ball, a nice cap to a 1-2-3 inning.

"I had command and could make shapes with my pitches, which is the most important thing, really," he said. "I'm not a hard thrower. It's about making the ball move the way you want to. And I hadn't really been on the mound trying to create with my breaking ball at all in a long time. So it was nice. I had a good feel for it. I have no idea how hard the ball was coming out, but I'll take what I had out there today for sure."

The Nationals have plenty of time to make a decision on Arroyo. His contract includes an opt-out five days before the end of camp, which he can enact if the club doesn't add him to the big league roster.

By then, Arroyo will have answered the biggest question in his mind: Can his arm adequately recover from pitching every five days? Baker, who previously managed him in Cincinnati, will trust his right-hander to be honest about his health.

"It's really going to come from him," Baker said. "He'll tell me. The main sign is going to be once he gets to multiple innings, how he responds in between days. I don't know if today was enough to put much stress on him, but he's kind of a stress-free guy anyway. I've always said he's not like a pitcher. He's like a ... ballet dancer. That's what he looks like. Because he's fluid and he's effortless."

Observations and quotes from Monday at Nats camp
Pitching dominates during Nats' final intrasquad g...

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