Relievers get extra work, Yepez gets three more hits, Wood gets a day off

James Wood dugout spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Davey Martinez wanted to see how several relievers in the mix for jobs handled major league hitters, the kind of proven players they don’t normally get to face late in spring training games when backups and minor leaguers take over. So today’s game against the Cardinals became a bullpen game, with a string of relievers trotting in throughout the afternoon to face the likes of Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, Willson Contreras and Brandon Crawford.

The takeaway from all that? Some were up to the challenge, others were not. And almost everybody needed to throw a lot of pitches before returning to the dugout.

The Nationals’ 8-5 exhibition loss saw six pitchers in the mix for Opening Day bullpen jobs take the mound. Only two of them (Derek Law, Robert Gsellman) emerged with a zero on the scoreboard, and each of them returned to toss a second scoreless inning. Four others (Luis Perdomo, Dylan Floro, Tanner Rainey, Robert Garcia) labored, each surrendering at least one run, each needing at least 22 pitches to complete his inning of work.

“Some of these guys, when they get to face big league hitters, the at-bats get extended,” Martinez said. “There’s more pitches; they’re not the five-, six-, seven-pitch innings. That’s kind of what I wanted to see. I wanted to see them get deeper in counts and see how they do. And I saw that today. Some guys were good and battled, and it was nice to see them go through that.”

From today’s group, Rainey and Floro are most assured of making the club, each on guaranteed contracts for $1.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively. Rainey, making his sixth appearance of the spring, issued three walks and uncorked a wild pitch during a rough top of the fifth. Floro, making his delayed spring debut after dealing with a tight shoulder earlier in camp, allowed two singles while inducing two ground ball outs.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in West Palm Beach

derek law reds

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On the heels of Friday’s doubleheader in Port St. Lucie, the Nationals return home for an early 12:05 p.m. exhibition today against the Cardinals. No rest for the weary.

The good news: The Nats are playing winning baseball right now, for whatever that’s worth. Friday’s 7-3 win over the Mets was their sixth straight, leaving their official Grapefruit League record a strong 12-8.

In a bit of a shakeup from the usual, Davey Martinez is using a bullpen game this afternoon. There were two reasons for this: 1) He’s trying to start lining up his regular starters for the regular season (hopefully we’re going to learn more about that in the next few days) and 2) He wants to give the relievers who are competing for spots in the Opening Day bullpen a chance to face major league hitters, which means they need to pitch the early innings.

One of those relievers in the mix is Derek Law, the veteran right-hander who signed a minor league deal shortly after camp opened. He’ll get the first inning today against St. Louis, so here’s his opportunity to make a statement. Also scheduled to pitch: Dylan Floro, Robert Garcia, Robert Gsellman and Luis Perdomo.

UPDATE: James Wood was scratched from the lineup, replaced in right field by Alex Call. Martinez is expected to provide an explanation postgame.

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Nats prospects savor first "Spring Breakout" game experience (updated)

Cole Henry spring training

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – T.J. White thought this might as well have been a real major league game. Cole Henry was thrilled when Drew Millas successfully got a ball turned into a strike with a formal challenge. Travis Sykora was so amped up, he couldn’t hold a cup of water without spilling it.

The first “Spring Breakout” game in Nationals history this afternoon was unlike anything these prospects had been a part of before. And though they took a 4-2 loss to the Mets’ top prospects in the seven-inning exhibition, that result didn’t diminish the experience.

Every team in the sport is participating in one of these games this week, in this case as an opening act to tonight’s Grapefruit League contest between the Nationals and Mets. Many of the Nats prospects who played today have been in big league camp all spring, so the experience might not have been unique to them. But for a host of younger kids who have been in minor league camp, this was a big deal.

“To me, it kind of felt like playing a real MLB game,” said White, who drove in both of the Nats’ runs with a pair of two-out RBI hits. “It kind of felt like getting my first big league hit, almost. It was just a surreal experience.”

Davey Martinez, who managed this game and will let bench coach Miguel Cairo handle the nightcap, noticed how amped up some of the players were. He put his hand on Sykora’s chest and said it was “going 1,000 mph.”

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Ferrer to open on IL with upper back strain; Lile "grateful" to be fine

Jose A. Ferrer chery blossom

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Jose A. Ferrer is going to open the season on the injured list with an upper back strain, removing one of the left-handers competing for a spot in the Nationals bullpen with two weeks to go in spring training.

Ferrer has a strain of the teres major, a muscle that connects the upper back to the shoulder, and will be shut down three weeks before he’s re-evaluated, according to manager Davey Martinez.

The 24-year-old made only three Grapefruit League appearances this spring, two of them during the first week of games, then one more March 8, when he tossed two scoreless innings but apparently was already dealing with some discomfort. The club had him undergo an MRI this week, which revealed the strain.

Ferrer was competing with Robert Garcia, Richard Bleier and Joe La Sorsa for one or two spots in the Opening Day bullpen the Nationals would like to give to a left-hander. Bleier, in camp as a non-roster invitee, has made a team-high eight appearances, striking out seven without issuing any walks. La Sorsa, who was dropped from the 40-man roster over the winter, has allowed only one run in 6 2/3 innings and has converted each of four save opportunities. Garcia, who has received the most praise from Martinez this spring, has a 3.86 ERA across seven innings.

Ferrer actually has pitched better than any of them, with only two batters reaching base in four innings of work. But his inexperience – and the fact that he still has minor league options – probably put him in a disadvantageous position entering camp.

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Spring Breakout lineups: Nats vs. Mets in Port St. Lucie

Trey Lipscomb spring training

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Hello from Mets camp, where tonight the Nationals and Mets meet in Grapefruit League play. But first, we’ve got a special treat: The “Spring Breakout” game featuring top prospects from both clubs.

Now, to be fair, we’ve already seen the majority of these guys in big league camp this spring. But it’ll still be fun to see them all together at the same time, facing fellow top prospects from a division rival.

The lineup includes Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House and Trey Lipscomb. But it also includes Yoyo Morales, Andrew Pinckney and T.J. White, who will get a more prominent look today than they’ve received to date.

It’s only a seven-inning game, and there are a bunch of pitchers who need to appear. So Jackson Rutledge, even though he’s starting, is only going one inning, maybe two tops. We’ll see a lot of other intriguing young arms throughout the afternoon.

SPRING BREAKOUT: WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where:
Clover Park, Port St. Lucie

Gametime: 3:10 p.m.
TV: MLB.tv (Mets feed)
Radio: nationals.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 11 mph out to left field

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Gallo to stay at first base as Rosario gets look in center field

Joey Gallo 2024 picture day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The notion that the Nationals signed Joey Gallo to be their primary left fielder, taking advantage not only of his power potential but also his Gold Glove arm? That doesn’t appear to be part of the plan anymore.

The combination of Gallo’s sore quad this spring and the recent signings of Eddie Rosario and Jesse Winker have convinced manager Davey Martinez to use Gallo primarily at first base for now.

“I think right now the idea is to keep Gallo at first base, and DH him at times, too,” Martinez said. “Especially now that he had this little tweak of his quad. We’ll try to keep him out of the outfield for now. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but I want him to be healthy before we even put him in the outfield.”

Gallo played his eighth game of the spring Thursday night, his fifth at first base. He served as designated hitter the other three times. He opened camp splitting workout time between the outfielders and infielders, but in recent weeks has worked exclusively at first base, this after missing several days with the quad injury.

Signed in January for $5 million to bring some much-needed power to a Nationals lineup that ranked last in the National League in homers last season, Gallo also was touted for his defensive ability in the outfield. He won the Gold Glove Award in both 2020 and 2021 and has spoken many times about the pride he takes in being a good defensive player.

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Davies tries to make his case for spot in Nats' rotation

Zach Davies Dbacks red away

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Zach Davies hasn’t been in this position in a while, pitching in spring training not to get ready for his team but to make his team.

Such is life on a minor league contract, and such is the dilemma facing Davies this month as he tries to convince the Nationals to include him on their Opening Day roster.

“In years past, having a secured job, the things that run through your mind are you’re still probably trying to work on something,” the 31-year-old right-hander said. “There’s times within a game that’s your focus. And then there’s a couple innings in there where you’re going to try to go after guys and be game-like. For me, I feel like you have to mix all that into every at-bat at this point. Just because I’m not on the roster and I’m still trying to make the team. Try and be competitive every time I’m out there.”

Davies said all this minutes after he departed tonight’s game at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, having just allowed two runs over five innings during the Nats’ 5-3 exhibition victory over the Astros. It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece – Houston collected seven hits and a walk, and Davies needed 89 pitches to complete his five frames – but it was hard to argue with the final results.

And results are what matter most to Davies right now.

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Ferrer has lat injury, Rutledge will start "Spring Breakout" game

Jose A. Ferrer chery blossom

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – One of the four left-handers competing for spots in the Nationals’ Opening Day bullpen is dealing with a physical setback that could hurt his chances.

Jose A. Ferrer hasn’t pitched in six days due to an issue with his lat muscle, manager Davey Martinez revealed today. It’s unclear when he’ll be ready to return to the mound.

“He’s got a little bit of a lat thing going on,” Martinez said. “I’ll know more about what’s going on with him in the next day or two.”

Ferrer has made only three game appearances this spring, two of them coming during the first week of Grapefruit League play on Feb. 26 and Feb. 29. He then sat eight days before his next appearance March 8, when he tossed two scoreless innings but apparently was already dealing with some discomfort. He hasn’t pitched since.

“It’s been bothering him,” Martinez said. “We’ll see.”

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Astros in West Palm Beach

abrams k @BAL

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – We’ve got another night game here, and the Nationals will field a lineup worthy of playing under the lights. It’s all regulars for Davey Martinez (if you count Jesse Winker as a regular), with some interesting nuggets in there.

Keibert Ruiz is catching back-to-back days for the first time this spring, having already been behind the plate Wednesday against the Marlins. And Eddie Rosario, who made his debut in left field Wednesday, is starting in center field tonight. The 32-year-old has played only 58 of his 1,030 career major league games in center, and most of those came in 2016-17 with the Twins, but Martinez has suggested he could be an option there for the Nats, which would be an interesting way to get everyone in the lineup (at the expense of Victor Robles).

Zach Davies is tonight’s starting pitcher, and you would think the veteran right-hander needs to start showing something if he wants to force his way into the Opening Day rotation. Davies tossed two scoreless innings (albeit with two walks and a hit batter) in his debut, but then gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings his last time out. We’ll see how he handles the Astros’ lineup.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. HOUSTON ASTROS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 6:05 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: nationals.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 78 degrees, wind 11 mph in from right field

NATIONALS
SS CJ Abrams
RF Lane Thomas
LF Jesse Winker
DH Joey Meneses
1B Joey Gallo
C Keibert Ruiz
CF Eddie Rosario
3B Nick Senzel
2B Luis García Jr.

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Strong spring showings create some tough pitching decisions

Robert Garcia city connect jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spring training stats must be taken with more than a grain of salt. Perhaps a full bucket of salt.

Now, having said that, has anyone out there noticed how well the Nationals have pitched this spring?

Wednesday’s 2-1 exhibition victory over the Marlins was merely the latest example. That came on the heels of a 4-1 victory over the Mets. Combine the pitching totals from those two games and the Nats have surrendered a grand total of two runs on six hits, walking only three while striking out 14.

And this has been going on for 2 1/2 weeks now. Eighteen games into their Grapefruit League schedule, the Nationals rank second in the majors in ERA (3.51), WHIP (1.164) and opponents’ batting average (.224), third in walks per nine innings (3.0), fourth in home runs surrendered per nine innings (0.68) and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.1).

There’s a lot to like about the way the entire staff has pitched to date, especially a number of guys who are competing for spots on the Opening Day roster.

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Irvin gets message and flips switch; Kieboom outrighted to Triple-A

irvin city v SFG

JUPITER, Fla. – After getting roughed up by the Astros to the tune of seven runs in 1 2/3 innings two weeks ago, Jake Irvin was approached by Nationals manager Davey Martinez, who asked what happened. Irvin informed his manager he was “working on stuff,” the insinuation there that he wasn’t approaching hitters the way he normally would in a regular season game.

The message Martinez shot back at the 27-year-old: Don’t do that.

“Work on the stuff you need to work on, but do it in the bullpen,” Martinez said. “When you’re in the game, you’re here to compete. I need you to forget about everything and start getting some outs. And he took it to heart.”

That’s putting it mildly. In two starts since that regrettable March 1 outing, Irvin has flipped the switch and pitched like these games were taking place in mid-September, not mid-March.

With five scoreless innings today on a scant 52 pitches, Irvin led the Nationals to a 2-1 exhibition win over the Marlins. Combined with his previous appearance against the Mets, the right-hander has now tossed nine scoreless innings, allowing three hits and zero walks while striking out 10 since getting that all-important message from his manager.

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Hassell has groin strain but not expected to miss much time

Robert Hassell III spring training

JUPITER, Fla. – Robert Hassell III is likely to open the season on the injured list after an MRI revealed a strain of his groin, but it doesn’t appear the Nationals outfield prospect will miss significant time.

Hassell injured himself March 8, able to play only one inning in the field, pulled before he could take an at-bat. He has been sidelined since, getting the MRI on Tuesday.

Manager Davey Martinez didn’t want to suggest a timetable for Hassell to return but acknowledged the 22-year-old will need to miss “a little time.”

“But he feels good,” Martinez added. “He’s going to just do some strengthening stuff, and hopefully we get him ready as soon as possible.”

The strain does not appear to be serious, because Hassell hasn’t been shut down altogether. He played catch Tuesday in West Palm Beach and was scheduled to hit off a tee today.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in Jupiter

Trey Lipscomb spring training

JUPITER, Fla. – The Nationals have a quick turnaround from Tuesday night’s game against the Mets to this afternoon’s game against the Marlins. That might explain why there are so many kids in Davey Martinez’s lineup. (Most veterans aren’t going to be asked to play spring training day games after night games.)

The good news is that we get to see James Wood, Dylan Crews and Trey Lipscomb all in the same lineup. Lipscomb, who started at second base Tuesday night, moves to third base today. Crews, it should be noted, is mired in a bit of a funk at the plate. He’s 0 for his last 8 with one walk and six strikeouts. Wood, meanwhile, is 2 for his last 13 after beginning the spring 9-for-19.

Jake Irvin gets the start for the Nats, hoping to build off a strong outing his last time on the mound. The right-hander shut out the Mets over four innings last week, striking out five without walking anybody. He’s probably assured of a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but another start like that would probably seal the deal.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. MIAMI MARLINS
Where:
Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, Jupiter
Gametime: 1:10 p.m.
TV: None
Radio: 980 AM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 8 mph right field to left field

NATIONALS
LF Jacob Young
RF James Wood
DH Jesse Winker
C Keibert Ruiz
2B Luis García Jr.
SS Ildemaro Vargas
3B Trey Lipscomb
CF Dylan Crews
1B Juan Yepez

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Rizzos found charity organization to benefit D.C. children

Mike Rizzo

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Mike Rizzo spent the first half of his professional life roaming every corner of the United States and beyond in search of young baseball talent. He’s spent the second half of that professional life staying in one place, making Washington his home during his 18 years working for the Nationals, the last 15 as general manager.

Along the way, as he realized how much D.C. had become home to him and his family, Rizzo decided he wanted to give something back to the city he now lovingly calls home.

“I’m so humbled and grateful every day,” he said. “I was an area scout and grinded it out for a long time to appreciate where I’m at right now. I’ve been blessed in my career and in my life – I’ve made enough money where I can help out the less fortunate – and I married a woman who wanted to do the same thing. We kind of teamed this thing up to leave a mark. I think the city deserves for me to give something back to them, since they’ve given so much to me.”

Thus was The Rizzo Family Foundation – aka “Riz Kids” – born. A new nonprofit organization created by Mike and Jodi Rizzo, it intends to champion educational equity and invest in D.C. children and their families through community grants, college scholarships and opportunities to experience special baseball events.

The idea came to the Rizzos sometime in 2020, after Mike’s sister Kim died of ALS. The birth of the couple’s son, Sonny, last year helped further push them to create the foundation, which officially launched this week.

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Gore avoids big inning, Barnes has strong debut, Lipscomb triples

gore pitches blue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – An admitted perfectionist, MacKenzie Gore is the kind of guy who tends to get caught up with the things he didn’t do well on a particular night and forget about the things he did do well.

So it was appropriate to wonder tonight if the Nationals left-hander might be hung up on the ragged top of the fourth he experienced against the Mets instead of focusing on the top of the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings, all of which went splendidly for him.

The good news: Gore was in a much better mood than you might have surmised based on his history.

“It was good,” he said. “Look, the stuff, we’re going in the right direction.”

Gore was quite good tonight, tossing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball and setting the tone on a night the Nats pitching staff combined to two-hit the Mets in a 4-1 exhibition victory. He retired the first nine batters he faced on a scant 32 pitches. He became not only the first member of the staff to complete five innings this spring but re-took the mound for the top of the sixth because his pitch count was so low.

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García, Robles get muted vote of confidence from Rizzo

Luis Garcia spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – With less than two weeks remaining in spring training, the two members of the Nationals’ projected lineup most in danger of losing their jobs got a muted vote of confidence from general manager Mike Rizzo, who nonetheless made it clear he needs to see more improvement from Luis García Jr. and Victor Robles.

García and Robles came to camp with an edict from club officials to show long-sought improvement, told they would be pushed by others in search of their starting jobs over the course of the spring. Each has enjoyed some success at the plate – García is 8-for-29 with two doubles and a homer, Robles is 6-for-18 with a homer and three walks – but each has come under some criticism following fundamental mistakes.

Asked about both García, 23, and Robles, 26, this afternoon, Rizzo expressed disappointment in those mistakes while also acknowledging their relative inexperience.

“I think they’re playing hard, they’re playing well,” Rizzo said. “We have to eliminate the mental lapses and the mental mistakes. But when you think about it, they’re both still young men chronologically. Although they seem like they’ve been here forever, they’re still young people. Luis is still 23 years old. If they didn’t have ability, obviously you wouldn’t be putting up with the mental mistakes that they make. But they have a lot of ability. They’ve shown it in the past at this level. We just have to get them over that, because that’s not helping the team.”

García in particular came under fire last week after committing errors on back-to-back plays, then getting picked off first base the following day.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Mets in West Palm Beach

gore pitches white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – We tend to think of spring training as a daytime exercise, with players reporting to the ballpark at the crack of dawn for workouts, playing a few innings in the early afternoon and then heading out early enough to play nine holes before sunset. But this final stretch of Nationals camp includes a ton of night games: Seven of them over the next 12 days (including three of the next four) to be precise.

Tonight the Nats host the Mets under the lights in West Palm Beach, with MacKenzie Gore on the mound. The left-hander makes only his third official start of the spring, his first in 11 days. (In between, he threw on a back field.) Gore should be good for at least four innings tonight, and he’ll be facing a Mets lineup that includes Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Starling Marte.

Most of the Nationals’ regulars are in the lineup, many of them playing for the second straight day. That includes Eddie Rosario, who after debuting as DH on Monday will start in left field tonight. Joey Meneses gets the nod at first base, with Joey Gallo assuming DH duties. Riley Adams, remarkably, is catching his first home game of the spring. And Trey Lipscomb gets a chance to start at second base surrounded by veterans, an interesting twist.

We’ll also see Matt Barnes coming out of the bullpen to make his Nationals debut, two weeks after he agreed to a minor league deal with the team.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where:
CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EST
TV: None
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 75 degrees, wind 10 mph in from right field

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Is there room for both Rosario and Winker on Nats roster?

Eddie Rosario Braves jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In his first at-bat as a member of the Nationals, Eddie Rosario didn’t drive the ball out of the park. He didn’t rip a line drive to center for a base hit. He hit a little dribbler toward short, one that left his bat at a not-so-scalding 49.9 mph. And then busted down the line.

By the time Cardinals shortstop Brandon Crawford charged in to field the ball and throw to first, Rosario had already crossed the bag, throwing his arms out in a “safe” motion as he looked to first base umpire Jen Pawol, who made the same (in her case, official) call.

The expected batting average on such a grounder? A measly .110. Rosario, suffice it to say, beat the odds with his hustle.

“That’s what I know about him,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s going to play the game the right way, play the game hard. It was good to see him come out in the first game and do what he did.”

That was the only time Rosario reached base in his Nats debut Monday afternoon. He finished 1-for-3 with the infield single, a popout to second and a well-struck fly out to left. It was a fairly nondescript performance, but not shabby given the fact the 32-year-old just signed a minor league contract five days prior.

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Corbin finds positives and negatives in start; Ward optioned to Triple-A

corbin pitches blue

JUPITER, Fla. – We’ve reached the point of spring training where it’s appropriate to start looking more at results, though perhaps not enough to start reading too much into them.

What, then, to make of Patrick Corbin’s start this afternoon during the Nationals’ 11-4 exhibition win over the Cardinals? The left-hander gave up three runs on six hits and two walks, all while throwing a whopping 74 pitches in only 3 2/3 innings. But he also notched six strikeouts, four of those coming on his newly developed cutter.

“Obviously, you want good results,” Corbin said. “The first inning, to throw – what, 30 pitches? – is not ideal. But it’s going to happen at some point in the season. It’s not what you’re trying to do, but sometimes just try to see how you bounce back from that.”

Corbin did bounce back from a ragged opening frame, retiring five of the last six batters he faced. And the fact six of his eight total outs came via strikeout has to be encouraging for someone who has seen his strikeout rate plummet over the last six years from 11.1 to 6.2 per nine innings.

Corbin now has 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings this spring, which equates to 11.7 per nine. And many of those are coming on the pitch he is currently adding to his repertoire and producing positive results to date.

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Young starters, Alu among Nats' first cuts; Hassell getting MRI

Jake Alu infield blue away

JUPITER, Fla. – It took nearly four weeks, but the Nationals finally made their first round of cuts this morning, removing seven players from their spring training roster, the majority of them young starting pitchers who weren’t going to get the innings they needed had they remained in big league camp.

Right-handers Joan Adon, Cole Henry and Amos Willingham, left-handers DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker and infielder Jake Alu all were optioned to Triple-A Rochester. Outfielder Travis Blankenhorn, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, was reassigned to minor league camp.

Adon, Henry, Herz and Parker all could figure into the Nationals’ rotation plans over the course of the season, the latter three hoping to make their major league debuts. Adon has spent parts of the last three years in the majors as a fill-in starter.

“I really wanted to see some of these young guys pitch up here, and for the most part I saw some really good things,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But it’s time to get these guys stretched out and get them on a regular routine.”

Herz joined the organization last summer, acquired from the Cubs along with infielder Kevin Made for Jeimer Candelario in the Nats’ lone trade deadline deal. The 23-year-old lefty impressed in eight starts at Double-A Harrisburg down the stretch, then pitched in the Arizona Fall League and was added to the 40-man roster over the winter.

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