JUPITER, Fla. - These are among the toughest days of spring training. For manager Dusty Baker, because it’s when he has to pull players into his office and inform them they didn’t make the team, affecting their lives in ways the public never sees. For players on the bubble, because they literally don’t know whether they’re getting on a plane Thursday bound for Washington or for somewhere else. And for everyone else, because the monotony and lack of significance of Grapefruit League games has long since worn off.
Suffice it to say, everybody is just ready to get out of Dodge and head north for good.
There was perhaps evidence of all that this afternoon during the Nationals’ 6-2 loss to the Cardinals, a fairly lackluster performance against a team that dominated them all spring.
The Nats went 0-7-1 against St. Louis, and you don’t have tell that to Baker. He already knows it.
“Boy, it’s tough,” the manager said. “This spring we didn’t beat those Cardinals one time. That’s OK. Law of averages.”
Grapefruit League results, of course, mean absolutely nothing. Especially on days when the opposition fields its everyday lineup and you bring only two regulars on the road.
But Baker is a competitor, and so the fact his Nationals are under .500 (13-16-4) with three exhibition games left - all versus the Red Sox: Thursday in Fort Myers, Friday in Washington, Saturday in Annapolis - does gnaw at him.
One guy Baker isn’t worried about right now is Stephen Strasburg, who emerged from today’s tune-up start healthy and ready for his opening day assignment against the Marlins on Monday.
“Stras is fine,” he said. “We’re very satisfied.”
Having already built up his arm, Strasburg was held back a bit this afternoon, throwing only 61 pitches over four innings. He did allow three runs (two earned) but threw 69 percent of his pitches for strikes and did what he needed to do to complete his spring.
“I’m still just building, working on pitches,” the right-hander said. “Everything was coming out good today, so I was pretty happy with it.”
As he did throughout the spring, Strasburg pitched exclusively out of the stretch. The move, which he hopes will help him repeat his mechanics and put him in a better position to avoid injuries, remains something of a work in progress.
“I think the game is based on adjustments,” he said. “So I’m not gonna sit here and say I’m 100 percent comfortable. But it’s all about continuing to work on things to keep it going well.”
Speaking of adjustments, Ryan Zimmerman appears to have successfully made some to his swing this spring. After pounding too many of his well-struck balls into the ground last season, the veteran first baseman has been able to elevate many more in the last month. With a towering home run to right-center today, he continued his torrid second half of March.
After going 0-for-17 to begin exhibition play, Zimmerman has since hit .457 (16-for-35) with a .525 on-base percentage and .743 slugging percentage.
“Nice to see Zim end on a strong note,” Baker said. “He had a good spring.”
The Nationals’ only real concerns as they prepare to leave town are three regulars dealing with minor ailments.
Daniel Murphy was not in the big league lineup for the third straight day after coming down with an illness. Baker said this morning Murphy was due to get at-bats in a minor league game in West Palm Beach, after which the team would decide whether Murphy should accompany everyone to Fort Myers and DH against the Red Sox or stay back to get even more at-bats.
Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon, meanwhile, sat out today while nursing minor injuries suffered from fouling pitches off themselves. Werth’s foul ball went off a toe on his left foot Tuesday night (though he did proceed to homer on the next pitch). Rendon’s foul ball went off his calf Monday; he hasn’t returned to play yet.