PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The Nationals' Grapefruit League finale today got underway on time, with sunshine actually hovering over Tradition Field. This was no mundane fact, considering the weather the Nats have had to deal with over the last week.
Four rainouts in 10 games, including back-to-back washouts the last two days, forced Dusty Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux to alter their plans, multiple times over.
To wit: Max Scherzer originally was scheduled to start Tuesday's game against the Marlins in Jupiter, then was pushed back to today's game against the Mets, then was held back in Viera to pitch in a minor league game. Which, apparently, also was interrupted for at least a brief while by rain.
The reason the Nationals kept Scherzer back wasn't so much about making sure he avoided rain but to make sure as many relievers as possible could pitch against the Mets after nobody got any work the last two days.
Thus, it was Trevor Gott getting the start in Port St. Lucie, with a host of fellow relievers lined up to follow him all afternoon.
"We didn't want to keep the whole bullpen back there to throw there," Baker said. "They certainly needed some work here, because of the rainouts. We decided it would be better to throw Max back there in a simulated game, and we'll do a bullpen game here."
The "Johnny Wholestaff" game is giving Baker and company one last opportunity to see a whole bunch of relievers competing for the final spot or two on the opening day staff. That decision, plus one more decision on the final member of the opening day bench, remain up in the air as the club prepares to head north tonight.
"They're always tough," Baker said. "Now they're always tough on the good teams. On the good teams, they're really tough because you probably have more good players. The bad teams, it's tough because you're trying to find some good players, you're trying to fill holes. Every team has holes. And it's tougher here, because I've had six weeks to learn people. It's always tough on a new team. On other teams, you've got a year or two of experience with those players. Or I had seen them in the minor leagues and I'd seen their progress. Here, I had to go on hearsay or attitudes, how they look, the opinions of the organization."
One other note from this morning: Both Bronson Arroyo and Burke Badenhop officially were released and then re-signed to new minor league contracts. Those are basically procedural moves, tearing up old contracts that included end-of-spring opt-outs for new ones that will allow both pitchers to remain in the organization. Arroyo, who is attempting to rehab from a tear in his shoulder, will open the season on the minor league disabled list.