Prospect Lile suffers scary back injury in Nats' exhibition loss

Josiah Gray blue road

FORT MYERS, Fla. – As the top of the seventh ended and the crowd at JetBlue Park rose to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the kids came jogging out of the Nationals dugout. A host of top prospects, including several called up for the day from minor league camp, made the long bus ride over from West Palm Beach for a chance to play a few innings in a Grapefruit League game.

Brady House, the club’s 2021 first-round pick, was at third base. Elijah Green, the club’s 2022 first-round pick, was in center field, having just replaced Dylan Crews, the club’s 2023 first-round pick.

And in right field was Daylen Lile, the club’s 2021 second-round pick who may not draw the same attention as the others but is touted by some evaluators both inside and outside the organization as just as good – if not better – than the rest.

This should have been a moment for the Nationals to cherish. Instead, eternal optimism morphed into fear and concern instantaneously as Lile flipped over the short wall in deep right-center trying to rob a home run and landed on his back in the Red Sox bullpen.

Everything else that happened during the Nats’ 4-2 loss to Boston – most notably Josiah Gray’s second straight strong start – felt secondary in that moment. Still stunned after the game ended, manager Davey Martinez did offer up a relatively optimistic update on Lile, who was taken to a local hospital for a CAT scan of his lower back.

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Garrett taking ABs in scrimmages, still aiming for Opening Day

Stone Garrett grays

FORT MYERS, Fla. – When camp opened, manager Davey Martinez was adamant Stone Garrett had a realistic chance of making the Nationals’ Opening Day roster and completing his comeback from the gruesome leg and ankle injury he suffered in August. As the calendar turns to March and Garrett has yet to make his game debut this spring, has that outlook changed?

Not at all, Martinez insisted today.

“I’m still optimistic that he can do it,” the manager said prior to today’s exhibition game against the Red Sox. “He’s working really hard. Probably the next 10-12 days are going to really determine where he’s at. They’re pushing him, and he wants to be pushed.”

Garrett, who broke his left fibula and injured his ankle making a leaping catch at the wall Aug. 23 at Yankee Stadium, has been participating in most morning drills this spring but has not appeared in a Grapefruit League contest yet.

The 28-year-old outfielder did recently start taking at-bats and running the bases in minor league intrasquad scrimmages, which have started up on the back fields behind CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Red Sox in Fort Myers

James Wood spring training 2

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Hello from JetBlue Park, aka “Fenway South.” The Nationals are making one of two cross-state trips today, this time to face the Red Sox. They’ll return to the area in eight days to face the Twins. And they brought some very intriguing names with them on the 2 1/2-hour bus ride.

James Wood and Dylan Crews are both in today’s lineup, Crews in center field while Wood serves as DH. Robert Hassell III, Brady House and Trey Lipscomb are all here and scheduled to come off the bench. And then there are three call-ups from minor league camp who came along as well: Elijah Green, Yohandy Morales and Daylen Lile. Hopefully, we get to see them at some point.

Josiah Gray is the starter on the mound, making his second start of the spring. The right-hander was really sharp in his debut against the Mets, striking out five across two scoreless innings. He’ll try to build up to three innings this afternoon against a Boston lineup that includes Rafael Devers, Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida.

A quick programming note: I’m heading home after today’s game for a short break. Bobby Blanco is down here and will have you covered all week, so be sure to read his work (including a feature story this morning about Jacob Young) on the site.

JetBlue Park, Fort Myers

Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: (Red Sox feed)
Radio: 106.7 FM,
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 81 degrees, wind 10 mph out to left field

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Gore remains sharp, Irvin struggles in relief, Abrams homers

MacKenzie Gore city connect

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – MacKenzie Gore isn’t quite established enough to ignore spring training results, but neither is he devoid of any track record and thus feels the need to make a statement when he takes the mound this time of year in Florida.

Gore is unquestionably part of the Nationals’ Opening Day rotation, perhaps someday in the near future the guy leading that rotation into a season. So these spring training outings are about two things: building his arm up and emerging healthy.

“I feel good, that’s the biggest thing,” the 25-year-old left-hander said this afternoon. “Not as sharp today, but it was good. We got into some situations and could see what we wanted to use. But I feel good, that’s really the most important thing.”

Oh, by the way, Gore was also successful in the results department, tossing three scoreless innings on 43 pitches during what became a 10-8 loss to the Astros.

Only two Houston batters reached base against Gore: Jake Meyers via a leadoff walk in the second, Grae Kessinger via a leadoff bloop single in the third. Neither advanced beyond first base, with Kessinger wiped out by an inning-ending double play in the third.

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Gallo "not worried at all" about tight quad muscle

Joey Gallo spring training 2

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Joey Gallo was adamant: The wrap around his left quadriceps is nothing to get worked up about.

“Just a little soreness, a little tightness,” the Nationals slugger said. “If it’s the season, we’re not even talking about it. But obviously in spring training, you’re always just cautionary. I’m not worried at all.”

Gallo hasn’t played either of the last two days because of the tight quad muscle. He didn’t participate in team defensive drills this morning, though he did take batting practice and showed no ill effects, launching balls into the stratosphere as usual.

The 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder said he didn’t get hurt on any one particular play. He just felt the tightness develop over several days and decided not to push it further.

“I’ve been playing with it fine,” he said. “It’s just more getting a couple days off it. It’s still so early in spring, you don’t want to do anything stupid. It’s very precautionary. Obviously, I’m out practicing, I’m doing everything. It’s about getting off it for a couple games and then getting back out there. It’s not a worry at all.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

CJ Abrams runs cherry blossom

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s been an encouraging start to the spring season for the Nationals, who have won four of their first six games, gotten some pretty good pitching and seen their top young prospects deliver in their first big league camp. At some point, though, you’d also like to see their projected regulars start producing a little more at the plate.

It might be a tough challenge for that to happen today, with two-time All-Star Framber Valdez on the mound for the Astros. Let’s see how CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas and Keibert Ruiz in particular handle that assignment in the bottom of the first.

MacKenzie Gore makes his second start of the spring, and his first one was a good one. The left-hander was sharp over two innings against the Marlins, striking out four. Jake Irvin is also scheduled to pitch out of the bullpen, going two or three innings.

CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach

Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 15 mph out to left field

SS CJ Abrams

RF Lane Thomas
C Keibert Ruiz
3B Nick Senzel
LF Jesse Winker
1B Juan Yepez
2B Trey Lipscomb
DH Travis Blankenhorn
CF Victor Robles

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Newly unveiled sweeper shows Finnegan's willingness to evolve

Kyle Finnegan Nats jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Four years into his big league career, Kyle Finnegan has established himself as good late-inning reliever. And he’s done so with a fairly simple repertoire of pitches. He throws a high-90s fastball most of the time (70 percent on average). And he mixes in a slider to right-handed batters and a splitter to hitters from both sides of the plate, both of those pitches registering around 90 mph with movement in opposite directions.

It’s a formula that has worked well for the Nationals closer. But as he thought about things this winter, he couldn’t help but come back to a certain conclusion.

“I think I’ve performed well, but I’ve always felt like I left something on the table and felt like I could do better than I’ve done,” he said. “And I think something I’ve been missing is a slower breaking ball.”

Indeed, with almost every pitch Finnegan throws clearing the 90-mph mark, there isn’t much reason for hitters to worry about anything throwing off their timing when they dig in against him.

So Finnegan went about trying to address that winter by developing a new pitch. And on Wednesday afternoon, he tried it out for the first time in a game: Say hello to the latest major leaguer to add a sweeper to his repertoire.

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Rainey's healthy debut, Corbin's sharp cutter and Wood's latest homer

rainey delivers white

JUPITER, Fla. – This wasn’t Tanner Rainey’s return from Tommy John surgery. That came late last September, when he tossed a scoreless inning in Atlanta as a reward for all the time and effort he put in over the previous year-plus.

What was the significance of Rainey’s 1-2-3 inning today at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium? Consider it his return to a normal pitching routine, the specter of his 2022 elbow ligament replacement surgery now well in the rear-view mirror.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve pitched consistently,” the Nationals reliever said following his team’s 3-1 exhibition victory over the Cardinals.

Yes, it has. After working vigilantly to complete his rehab program last fall and make at least one big league appearance before season’s end, Rainey went into the winter a healthy pitcher who could prepare for 2024 just like everyone else.

The Nationals, though, did still want to take it a little slow with Rainey. He threw a couple extra bullpen sessions than his teammates in the early days of camp, then threw an extra round of live batting practice to make sure everything felt right before being thrown into a real game situation.

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Hall of Famer Rolen is surprise guest speaker at Nats camp

Scott Rolen Reds

JUPITER, Fla. – It’s not unusual for former players to speak to the Nationals and offer advice to the organization’s younger up-and-comers. Certainly not this spring, which has seen Ryan Zimmerman spend a week at camp and Sean Doolittle and Gerardo Parra take on full-time coaching positions.

But those are all former Nationals, guys with distinct connections to recent franchise history. The guy who spoke to the team this morning has none of that. Though he does have a plaque in Cooperstown.

Scott Rolen, the former star third baseman of the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds, was a surprise visitor in the clubhouse today. Invited by manager Davey Martinez and bench coach Miguel Cairo, he’ll be around for several days in an unofficial capacity.

“I wanted him to come to camp and just talk to some of the younger players and everybody,” Martinez said. “I said to the boys he exemplifies the way we want to play the game. This guy showed his heart. He was one of the best. I think they were in awe, because he’s a big fella.”

The 6-foot-4 Rolen indeed was an immediate physical presence when he walked into the clubhouse, top prospects Dylan Crews, James Wood and Robert Hassell III all sitting together by the door and excited to see him. Rolen, a 2023 Hall of Fame inductee, spoke to the entire team during their morning “Circle of Trust” meeting, then was on the field for pregame workouts, offering advice to anyone interested in listening.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in Jupiter

Patrick Corbin throw blue home

JUPITER, Fla. – The temperature has slowly been rising each day this week, to the point where it’s starting to become a little bit steamy down here. It could crack 80 degrees this afternoon, with some humidity, when the Nationals face the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

This is the Nats’ sixth exhibition game, and for the sixth straight day, James Wood is playing. This time in the starting lineup, batting second and playing center field, quite the assignment for the young prospect. Wood and his Nationals teammates (including Trey Lipscomb at second base) will be facing Cardinals right-hander Kyle Gibson, so it’s another opportunity to see how the kids stack up against a veteran major leaguer.

Patrick Corbin makes his second start of the spring, hoping for better results and efficiency than he had in his debut Saturday night, when he needed 50 pitches to complete just two innings. Among the relievers scheduled to pitch today are two guys making the spring game debuts: Tanner Rainey and Derek Law. Rainey, who made his return from Tommy John surgery during the final weekend of the 2023 season, has purposely been ramped up a bit slower than his teammates, but he’s good to go now. Law, the veteran righty who signed a minor league deal after camp opened, is ready to go as well and try to start making his case to make the club.

Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: (Cardinals feed)
Radio: (Cardinals feed)
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 9 mph in from center field

RF Lane Thomas
CF James Wood
1B Joey Meneses
DH Travis Blankenhorn
3B Nick Senzel
C Riley Adams
LF Jacob Young
2B Trey Lipscomb
SS Nasim Nuñez

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Healthy Barnes arrives at Nats camp with goal of making club

Matt Barnes Red Sox jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Matt Barnes, born and raised in New England, spent the first nine years of his big league career pitching for the Red Sox. So why not continue to make his home in Connecticut, even during the offseason?

Winters in the Northeast, of course, require some creativity for ballplayers who want to stay in shape. So it was that Barnes, still unemployed, found himself last week pitching off a synthetic mound at an indoor facility, facing the UConn Huskies baseball team in an attempt to keep his arm ready in case a major league organization finally came calling.

The Nationals did call, signing Barnes on Tuesday to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. And on Wednesday, the 33-year-old reliever reported for duty in a much warmer location, excited to start getting himself ready for the upcoming season.

Just as soon as he can practice pitching outdoors again.

“As much as I love living up north from time to time, we can’t really get on dirt mounds right now,” he said. “So I haven’t had spikes on in eight months. I would like to get some spikes on and get off of a dirt mound before I start facing some big league hitters again.”

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Rutledge labors, Finnegan cruises, Robles progresses

Jackson Rutledge blue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Neither of Jackson Rutledge’s two innings today was particularly strong. He walked three batters in the top of the first. Then he surrendered four hits in the second, two of those Red Sox batters eventually coming around to score.

As poor as the results were, Davey Martinez much preferred Rutledge’s second inning to his first one.

“I’d rather see him throw strikes like he did,” the Nationals manager said following a 4-3 exhibition victory. “He just fell behind a little more than he did the last time. Last time, he was strike one. The key for him is to work ahead. The secondary pitches just weren’t effective today.”

Getting a chance to start four days after he tossed two crisp innings of relief, Rutledge looked like a wholly different pitcher. He walked three of the game’s first five batters, and though he escaped that inning with no runs across the plate, he was already behind the eight-ball with a pitch count of 27.

The rookie right-hander was much more around the strike zone in the second inning, throwing 17 of his 23 pitches for strikes. That did contribute to four singles, but he also managed to close out his afternoon with back-to-back strikeouts, something of a silver lining for him.

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Thompson to have second Tommy John surgery on Friday

thompson v CIN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – From the moment he felt something in his elbow while throwing to live hitters back home in Texas earlier this month, Mason Thompson feared the worst. Today, the Nationals reliever had those fears confirmed: He needs Tommy John surgery.

Thompson will undergo a full elbow ligament replacement surgery Friday, manager Davey Martinez revealed today, and will miss the entire 2024 season.

The 26-year-old reliever has been through this before, having had Tommy John surgery as a junior at Round Rock High School. Given his history, he had a sinking feeling about the severity of this injury when his elbow hurt after throwing a pitch during his pre-spring training workouts.

The Nationals decided to shut down Thompson for two weeks to let swelling decrease, then had him re-examined this week, hoping he might be able to avoid the surgery and get by with a less-invasive rehab program. But an MRI revealed a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, so surgery was scheduled.

Thompson now faces 12 to 18 months of recovery, not to mention the stigma that comes with a second Tommy John surgery.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Red Sox in West Palm Beach on MASN

CJ Abrams runs smiles white walkoff

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – If everything goes as planned, Jackson Rutledge probably isn’t going to make the Nationals’ Opening Day rotation. But if everything goes as the team hopes, Rutledge could join the rotation at some point this season and, ideally, pitch well enough to stay.

The 2019 first-round pick made his long-awaited debut last September, his path to the majors having been slowed by injuries and struggles on the mound. The tall right-hander had a rocky first start but then acquitted himself well after that and came to camp this spring feeling better about his long-term prospects.

Rutledge already showed well in a two-inning relief appearance here Saturday. Today, he’ll get a chance to start a Grapefruit League game for the first time, facing a lineup full of guys wearing Red Sox jerseys. Technically, these are the Boston Red Sox, but if you glance at that lineup, you’re not going to see a lot of guys who are going to open the season in Boston.

The Nationals’ lineup is a mixture of regulars, bench players and kids. Dylan Crews and Drew Millas are the two prospects starting today, though James Wood and Robert Hassell III are scheduled to come off the bench. Also scheduled to pitch in relief are Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey and DJ Herz.

And the best news of all: You can watch today’s game live on MASN at 1 p.m.!

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Davies' strong debut, Bleier's near-immaculate inning and Adon's bounce back

Zach Davies

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Zach Davies arrived at Nationals camp late, having signed his minor league deal three days after pitchers and catchers reported and having arrived here three days after that. So the veteran right-hander understandably is a little behind the rest of his teammates.

That probably came into focus during Davies’ spring debut Tuesday afternoon. After a sharp first inning that included a pair of strikeouts of big-name Astros hitters, he labored a bit in the second.

“Overall, command felt pretty good,” the right-hander said. “In the second inning, I think I got a little bit tired and tried to rush to the plate, started missing arm-side with a lot of stuff. But in the first inning, I felt really good, fluid, under control. I think those are just kind of the nerves and the jitters of getting back into games and trying to do too much. But I’m ready to go to work for these next five days and go back out there next time.”

The end result was still a positive one: No runs or hits allowed on 40 pitches, 23 of which were strikes. There were two walks and a hit batter, the byproduct of that early spring fatigue Davies alluded to. But given the lineup he faced, with a top five of Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Jose Abreu, it was hard to find much fault with the showing overall.

More impressive than the results were the surprising number of swings-and-misses Davies elicited. An admitted “pitch-to-contact” guy who relies on a sinker to induce ground balls, he somehow got Houston’s accomplished hitters to whiff at several of his pitches.

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Given chance to start, Nationals' kids excel against Astros' stars

Dylan Crews spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Davey Martinez filled out a lineup card this morning that had some purpose to it. Not the batting order, that was incidental. But the names he wrote into the three starting outfield slots – Hassell in left, Crews in center, Wood in right – was done for a particular reason.

The Nationals’ top prospects had all already seen playing time through the first three days of the Grapefruit League. Today, though, was an opportunity to let them all start together, facing an accomplished major league pitcher in the Astros’ José Urquidy.

“I want to try to get all those guys in there together,” Martinez said this morning, “let them face a good pitcher and see how they handle it.”

The verdict? They handled it well. Very, very well.

The kids’ imprints were all over the Nats’ 10-3 thrashing of the Astros. Robert Hassell III hit a two-run opposite-field homer. Dylan Crews delivered a two-run hustle double, stole a base and made a diving catch in center field. James Wood singled, walked and scored a run. And Brady House, who entered off the bench, launched his first spring training homer, making this an extremely good day for an organization that has staked its future to this crop of elite prospects.

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Source: Nats signing former Red Sox closer Matt Barnes to minor league deal

Matt Barnes Marlins black away

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Still searching for more experienced bullpen help, the Nationals have agreed to a minor league contract with former Red sox closer Matt Barnes, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Barnes, who still needs to pass a physical before his signing is official, will become the latest veteran reliever to join the Nats’ major league camp on a non-guaranteed deal, hoping to seize one of a couple of open spots in the Opening Day bullpen.

The 33-year-old right-hander owns a 4.13 ERA, 1.355 WHIP and 47 saves across 10 big league seasons, the first of those with the Red Sox. A reliable setup man on Boston’s 2018 World Series championship team, he ascended to the closer’s role in 2021 and earned his first All-Star selection in the process.

Traded to the Marlins for left-hander Richard Bleier (also in Nats camp on a minor league deal) prior to the 2023 season, Barnes missed significant time with a hip injury and struggled to a 5.48 ERA in 24 games. Club officials believe he’s healthy again and throwing with no issues.

The Nationals already entered camp in the market for more relievers, and their interest has only grown after watching Mason Thompson and Dylan Floro deal with arm injuries. Thompson, who was shut down prior to camp with a sore elbow, was re-examined by doctors Monday and is awaiting word on the diagnosis, though there is concern among team officials the injury is serious. Floro, who reported a tight shoulder last week, has resumed throwing and threw 15 pitches off a mound at 70 percent velocity Monday.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

James Wood spring training 2

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals’ top prospects have been given a good amount of playing time early this spring, but most of that time has come later in games, when they’re facing minor league pitchers. That changes today, because Davey Martinez has four of the kids in the starting lineup against an accomplished major leaguer.

James Wood, Dylan Crews, Robert Hassell III and Trey Lipscomb are all in there, set to face Astros right-hander José Urquidy in what should be their biggest challenge to date. Their performance in this one game isn’t going to make or break their spring, but it does give club officials a little more evidence of their readiness against top competition.

Speaking of tough challenges, Zach Davies today will have to face most of the Astros’ “A” lineup. Davies, the veteran right-hander trying to make the club on a minor league deal, will need to keep his sinker down in the zone and hope to induce some ground balls out of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Co. if he wants to make a good first impression.

CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
TV: MLB Network, (Astros feed)
Radio: (Astros feed)
Weather: Sunny, 76 degrees, wind 12 mph out to left field

DH Lane Thomas
SS Ildemaro Vargas
RF James Wood
1B Joey Meneses
3B Jake Alu
CF Dylan Crews
C Riley Adams
LF Robert Hassell III
2B Trey Lipscomb

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Abrams' remarkable journey from Opening Day fiasco to breakthrough season

CJ Abrams

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Inside the home clubhouse at Nationals Park back on March 30, 2023, a devasted CJ Abrams couldn’t believe the nightmare he had just endured.

In his first Opening Day as the Nats’ starting shortstop, the then-22-year-old committed three errors while also going 0-for-4, a disastrous game for anyone at any time, let alone the first day of the season.

“It killed him,” said Ricky Gutierrez, who served as the team’s defensive coordinator last season and was specifically charged with coaching the infielders. “He was crushed.”

Few games get dissected the way Opening Day games get dissected, every positive and every negative moment magnified as if the fate of the entire year depends on it. And for Abrams, the easy narrative was impossible to ignore: He was going to be a liability in the field, not to mention a weak hitter.

Abrams and Gutierrez can laugh a little about it now, some 11 months later, because they know how everything turned out. Abrams wasn’t a liability in the field. Over the course of the season, he developed into a stabilizing force in the field, not to mention one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in baseball.

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With sharp fastball, Gray excels in first start of spring

gray v CIN

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – That Josiah Gray struck out five Mets batters today during his two-inning spring debut was good news for the Nationals

That he struck out three of those batters swinging at fastballs was great news for Gray.

“Anytime you can get swings and misses, especially on the fastball, is a good feeling,” the right-hander said. “A confidence booster.”

Gray has shown the ability to be a strikeout pitcher at times during his burgeoning career, with five double-digit outings the last two seasons. But most of those whiffs came on breaking balls, with the occasional called third strike sprinkled in for good measure.

What Gray showcased today during an eventual 6-3 exhibition loss was something different. And something the Nationals have been waiting to see for a while.

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