WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – All of the decisions, for the most part, have already been made. There’s not much-left anyone can do to make or break his chances of making the Opening Day roster.
So consider tonight’s penultimate Grapefruit League game – a 6-1 loss to the Astros – a true exhibition, one in which the only real goal was to play nine innings, get any necessary work in and avoid injury.
The Nationals accomplished all of that, so who cares about the end result? (Though it does leave them with a tenuous 12-11-2 record heading into Sunday’s finale, needing a win over the Marlins to finish the spring over .500.)
Patrick Corbin, whose next start in five days will kick off the regular season, did what he needed to do in his final tune-up. The left-hander, who had already been stretched out to six innings in his previous outing, was held to four innings and 60 pitches. He allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits, making a couple of mistakes but also victimized by some shaky defense behind him.
“I felt command was pretty good,” he said. “Maybe a couple pitches were up, but I got some swings-and-misses on changeups and sliders. Overall, I felt pretty good. I’ve just got to throw another bullpen coming up and then get ready for the first game.”
About that shaky defense …
Joey Meneses didn’t exactly look comfortable in left field, letting Yordan Álvarez’s second-inning hit get past him for an RBI double. He also couldn’t make a clean play on Alex Bregman’s subsequent groundball single.
Because Meneses played only first base for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, manager Davey Martinez wanted him to get as much time as possible in left field during this final week of camp, so he’s somewhat more comfortable if called upon to play there in season. Meneses has started three of the last four days in left; the results haven’t often been pretty.
“We’re trying to get him going a little bit, see the ball off the bat,” Martinez said. “As he plays more out there, he’ll get more comfortable. Obviously, we love his bat in the lineup. Whether it’s DH, whether it’s giving Dom (Smith) a day off at first or playing in left field, he’s going to do all three.”
Corbin’s defense also let him down in the first inning when CJ Abrams couldn’t make a tough catch going back on a popup into shallow center field, allowing a run to score. Abrams was officially charged with the error, but he might’ve been bailed out had center fielder Víctor Robles called him off and made the easier catch running in.
“It was a tough play for CJ, going back like that,” Martinez said. “It threw (Robles) off, because CJ called it. But I told him: ‘You have to catch the ball. And if you call it, he gets out of the way.’”
It wasn’t all bad defense tonight. Alex Call made a tremendous diving catch of a line drive in right-center field in the top of the ninth. Alas, the outcome of the game had long since been decided.
The best pitching performance of the night came from Hunter Harvey, who entered for the top of the eighth and departed having struck out the side on only 10 pitches. The flamethrowing right-hander hasn’t garnered much attention this spring, but he has eight strikeouts in only 5 1/3 innings and has kept himself healthy (his No. 1 priority after years of injury woes).
“He can be really good,” Martinez said. “When he pounds the zone, his fastball’s very live. I know he’s worked hard on his (split-finger fastball) this year. I told him in the bullpen, you really only need two pitches. And your fastball plays, so don’t run away from it.”
Two other right-handers who appear on the verge of making the Opening Day roster for the first time in their respective careers also enjoyed strong performances tonight. Thaddeus Ward, the Rule 5 draftee who must stay on the big league roster all year or be offered back to the Red Sox, struck out three over 1 2/3 scoreless innings. And Hobie Harris, a non-roster invitee, continued his torrid spring with another scoreless inning, lowering his ERA to 0.90.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Martinez said. “He’s in the mix, for sure.”
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