Davies roughed up in last scheduled start of spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Zach Davies has been doing this long enough to have real perspective. The 31-year-old right-hander is one of the most introspective players in Nationals camp this spring, understanding that the big picture matters but so does his most recent performance.

And his most recent performance was hard to ignore. For all the wrong reasons.

In his last scheduled start of the spring, Davies was roughed up by the Cardinals during a 13-4 trouncing, unable to get himself out of a seven-run top of the fourth that required 40 pitches on his part.

If this happened any of the previous springs, when Davies was assured a spot in his team’s Opening Day rotation, it wouldn’t have carried much weight. But in this spring, with Davies attempting to make the club off a minor league contract, it stood out like a sore thumb.

“I was extremely pleased with everything, except for the last inning that I pitched,” he said. “It’s unfortunate being in this position. Your last start of spring you don’t really have any more chances to show them what you have. All I can do is be prepared for whatever’s next.”

It remains to be seen what’s next. Trevor Williams, the incumbent No. 5 starter who is competing with Davies for the job, is scheduled to start Thursday against the Twins and make his case. Either, or both, could still theoretically pitch one more time in next Tuesday’s exhibition finale at Nationals Park. But there’s no guarantee of that, and Davies seemed to believe tonight’s start represented his final opportunity.

“It’s really hard to judge a guy like him based on one outing, and I’m not going to do it,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We’ve got some tough decisions to make. He’s a professional.”

Davies, who entered with a 4.35 ERA in three previous spring outings, got off to a strong start tonight. Two innings in, he had retired six of the seven batters he faced, three via strikeout. A leadoff homer by Jose Fermin in the top of the third looked like a bump in a road, but nothing more than that.

And three batters into the fourth, Davies was in an advantageous position: Two out, runner on first. Then the wheels fell off. Alfonso Rivas III walked. Fermin singled home a run. So did César Prieto. Victor Scott II drew another walk. Dylan Carlson launched a grand slam off a 2-0 pitch. Then Matt Carpenter and Willson Contreras hit back-to-back doubles, forcing Martinez to walk to the mound to remove his starter before the inning was completed.

Had Davies made one more quality pitch somewhere along the way, the result might have been far different. That, more than anything, gnawed at him afterward.

“What was successful the first time through that order, early in counts it played,” he said. “But when I got to two strikes, guys were laying off pitches and they were putting together good at-bats. I need to counter that as a pitcher.”

Now all Davies can do is wait to learn his fate.

“Hopefully, one inning in their eyes isn’t enough to say: ‘No, you’re not a part of this team,’” he said. “But at the same time, it’s their decision, it’s their team. That’s baseball. That’s the way the cards will fall, and you have to accept it and do better next time out.”

* If tonight’s game brought any clarity to the competition for the No. 5 starter’s job, it didn’t necessarily bring any to the competition for any available left-handed jobs in the bullpen.

All three lefties still in the mix (Robert Garcia, Joe La Sorsa, Richard Bleier) pitched. Garcia, who seemingly has had the leg up all spring based on Martinez’s praise for the 27-year-old, gave up two runs on two hits in the top of the ninth. (The runs were unearned, but they were the result of his own throwing error.)

La Sorsa replaced Davies in the fourth and got out of that inning, then returned to pitch a perfect fifth. He now sports a 1.00 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in nine games this spring, striking out 11 while walking only three.

Bleier also enjoyed a perfect inning of relief, retiring the side in the top of the eighth. The veteran has a 1.69 ERA and 0.750 WHIP in 10 games.

The Nationals must decide whether to keep one or two of those left-handers in what looks like a crowded bullpen.

“We’re trying to determine whether we want to keep another lefty,” Martinez said. “Both those guys (La Sorsa and Bleier) have done well. We’ve got some spots open in the bullpen, and they’re still in the mix.”

* Kyle Finnegan was originally scheduled to return to the mound tonight after an eight-day layoff due to a tight back, but the closer opted to wait until Thursday to make his return. He already threw a bullpen session Monday with no issues.

“He’s ready,” Martinez said. “We just pushed him back one more day.”

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