The final day of spring training is about a starter building up his pitch count, a few relievers getting some last-minute work in and everybody else just avoiding injury.
The Nationals, it would appear, survived today’s Grapefruit League finale, a 2-2 tie with the Astros at their shared complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Next up: a charter flight to Washington, a day off so everyone can get settled in, a workout and simulated game at Nationals Park on Wednesday evening, and then it’s go time.
“We really can’t wait to get back to D.C.,” manager Davey Martinez, sporting a dress shirt and a new haircut provided by pitching prospect Cade Cavalli, said during his postgame Zoom session before boarding the team bus. “The excitement lies within the fans. We’re going to have 5,000 fans. We’re excited about that. The boys put the time in this spring. They’re excited. They’re ready to get back to D.C. and ready to get this things going.”
For the lineup members who played today, there wasn’t much left to prove.
Ryan Zimmerman singled in his first at-bat to raise his spring training batting average to an even .500, but struck out his other time up and thus left Florida batting .481 (13-for-27) with six homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.739 OPS. Josh Bell walked and drove in his 15th run to finish with a .383 average, six homers and a 1.328 OPS. Victor Robles made a couple of nifty catches in center field and finished with a .296 batting average and .371 on-base percentage.
Of more note, Stephen Strasburg looked more than ready to begin the season with a 98-pitch final tune-up. The right-hander allowed two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings, and though he struck out only three, they came in succession at the end of his outing as he wrapped things up on a high note.
“That was awesome,” Martinez said. “That’s what (pitching coach Jim) Hickey and I wanted to see. He teeter-tottered today the whole game, and then those last three batters, he really honed in and did well. That was a good way to end his spring. I feel like he’s ready to go.”
“My mechanics just started to sync up later on there, so that was a positive,” Strasburg said. “It’s just trying to get the reps in and trying to put myself in a good position to start the season. I guess it’s been a little bit slower than I anticipated as far as execution, but I’ve just got to continue to be patient with myself and know that it’s a long season.”
More importantly, Strasburg showed no signs of the left calf injury that created a brief scare 15 days ago and even looked nimble covering first base on a grounder to the right side. It doesn’t appear there’s any reason for concern health-wise as the veteran gears up for a 30-start season following his injury plagued 2019.
“The calf really hasn’t been bothering me,” he said. “I’ve been able to do my running and conditioning in between. That’s not something I’m concerned with.”
It’s not entirely certain yet when Strasburg will make his 2021 debut. It will come this weekend against the Mets, but he could start either Saturday or Sunday, with Patrick Corbin on the mound for the other one.
Today’s game also saw three key members of the bullpen ready themselves for opening night with sharp performances.
Brad Hand, who had looked sluggish much of the spring, appeared to have more life on his fastball during a scoreless seventh. Tanner Rainey, still catching up to his bullpen mates after dealing with a muscle strain near his collarbone early in camp, had his best outing to date and struck out a pair in the eighth. And Wander Suero, who did consistently look good all spring, finished strong with a scoreless ninth.
“Definitely looked better,” Martinez said when asked about Hand and Rainey in particular. “These guys in the bullpen, they’re very adrenaline-oriented. I look at Rainey today, and his velo hit 95 (mph). And I think come Thursday, it’ll be even better than that. He feeds on that adrenaline. Same thing with Hand. ... For me, those are good signs. I think they’re ready to go.”