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

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.

“Good movement, deception, catching hitters off-guard,” he said. “Knowing that I throw 88-90, that’s typically a place where hitters can hit. So being able to move the ball around with command and catching them off-guard on certain pitches, knowing that with two strikes they’re probably sitting offspeed with me, they’re going to try to hit the ball the other way. So this is a time where I can sneak a fastball by.”

Davies, 31, is trying to crack an Opening Day rotation that seemed to be set when camp opened. The Nationals, though, wanted to bring in someone with a track record who could take over if anything happened to one of the planned five starters, and he fit the bill.

A few more performances like this one, and Davies could at least make club officials think about their plans.

“There are chances to make a team like this,” he said. “Whatever direction they want to go in, that’s not my choice. But if I go out there and I know each outing I’ve put in the work beforehand, I’ve executed what I want to do, that’s all I can do.”

* Richard Bleier took over for Davies in the third inning and put forth a nearly flawless frame. The veteran lefty struck out Altuve on three pitches, struck out Alvarez on three pitches and had Bregman down 0-2, leaving himself one pitch away from an immaculate inning.

Bleier didn’t quite pull off that feat, but he did ultimately strike out Bregman and returned to the dugout having thrown 10-of-12 pitches for strikes, giving him two perfect innings to begin his spring.

“Man, he attacks the strike zone,” manager Davey Martinez said. “One thing I know about Bly: He doesn’t like to be out there long, so he’s going to come right at you. I love that about him. When I used to watch him pitch against us, I told the guys: ‘Be ready, he’s going to be around the plate.’ He works quick, and he just wants to get outs and get moving and get to the dugout.”

* Joan Adon bounced back from a rough spring debut Saturday night with two scoreless innings of relief, and he did that while bouncing back from a rough start to this one.

During his first at-bat of the sixth, Adon was called by plate umpire Edwin Jimenez for a clock violation, ultimately resulting in a leadoff walk. The right-hander immediately argued his PitchCom device wasn’t working, and he couldn’t hear catcher Drew Millas’ call. That led to some barking between Adon, the Nats dugout and Jimenez.

But Adon responded by inducing two ground ball outs, then a pop out to end the sixth. Then he returned for the seventh and struck out the side.

“He could’ve gotten rattled,” Martinez said. “He didn’t let it bother him; he came back and threw strikes. That’s got to be the key for him: Be consistent throwing strikes, stay in the zone. The high-leverage situations, he’s definitely got to be able to control the heartbeat. If he does that, he’s got good stuff.”

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