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

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.

“Mechanics were feeling good,” Floro said. “Execution of some of those pitches is going to get a little better. But that’s going to come. The next outing, everything’s going to get a little better. They’ve gotten better from when I was throwing (live batting practice) out back. Each outing is getting better and better.”

Law, Gsellman and Perdomo are among the group of veterans who are trying to make the team on minor league deals, competing with Matt Barnes, Jacob Barnes and Richard Bleier. Garcia, who continues to receive praise from Martinez and could be the frontrunner among the lefties in camp, does have minor league options if he doesn’t make the club.

* Juan Yepez had the biggest day at the plate of anyone in the Nationals lineup. Which makes sense, because he was facing the Cardinals.

The former Cardinals corner infielder/outfielder went 3-for-4 with a towering two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. He’s now 10-for-27 this spring, and six of his hits, both of his homers and seven of his eight RBIs have all come in three games against St. Louis.

“I’m not going to lie; I take it personal, the history behind,” said Yepez, who was non-tendered by the Cardinals over the winter and then signed a minor league deal with the Nats. “But it’s still spring training. It’s like any other team. I’m trying to do the best I can.”

Yepez has played only first base so far in games this spring, but with Joey Gallo and Joey Meneses blocking him there he might need to show he can play around the field to have a chance of making the roster. Martinez said he may start seeing action at third base and in left field during the final week of camp.

* James Wood was scratched from today’s lineup after taking an awkward check-swing during Friday’s Spring Breakout game in which the handle of his bat caught his right wrist.

Martinez was quick to say Wood felt good enough to play today and still took batting practice with no issues. The manager simply decided to give him a break. The top outfield prospect leads the team with 17 games played already this spring.

“It was a weird swing, so I didn’t want to take any chances,” Martinez said. “He feels totally fine. He said he could play today. But I said: ‘You’ve been playing a lot. Let’s just give you a day, and we’ll get you back out there.’”

* MacKenzie Gore will start Sunday’s game against the Mets. Patrick Corbin will pitch in a minor league game at the same time.

* Third base coach Ricky Gutierrez has been away from the team this weekend dealing with a family matter. Martinez said Gutierrez is expected back Monday. Triple-A manager Matt LeCroy has been coaching third base in his absence.

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