Left-over bits and pieces
So I would post the lineups for the game against the Astros, but that would be ... well, about 14 hours too late. Quite a display by the boys last night in a 16-2 win. Yes, everybody could get caught up in Jesus Flores hitting .500 on the spring and Ryan Church taking an adjustment suggested by hitting coach Mitchell Page (read about him in the $.35 edition of the paper) into the game, getting three hits, hitting a massive three-run bomb and driving in five.
But the significant part of the whole affair: Jerome Williams. Five innings without an earned run (and really, had D'Angelo Jimenez not dropped an absolutely-routine-settle-under-it-and-yawn pop-up, it would have been five shutout innings) allowing only two hits in the process. Williams was ecstatic afterward. "That's the most confident I've felt out there," he said. After a disastrous first start against Atlanta at Disney, he hasn't allowed a run in his last 12 innings over last three outings.
Manager Manny Acta stopped just short -- just short -- of putting Williams in the rotation, but you can bet he'll be there. So now we have four pieces to the puzzle -- Patterson, Hill, Chico and Williams, with Jason Simontacchi a healed groin away from being the fifth guy.
The other significant development: Levale Speigner. This little right-hander has quite a good curveball and could be an important piece of the staff because of his ability to throw three innings in relief. (I mean, I'm not saying they're going to need a long guy on this team. I'm just sayin'.) Jim Bowden raved last night about Dana Brown, the scouting director, who suggested the Nationals take Speigner in the Rule 5 draft. Bowden trusts no one's eyes more than his own when it comes to evaluating hitters. But he does indeed trust Brown on pitchers. Speigner is that rare Rule 5 guy who actually looks ready to contribute to this year's club, though don't get terribly caught up in his 11-2/3 scoreless innings. I like Acta's assessment better: "I haven't seen many people taking comfortable swings against him."
Other stuff that I couldn't wedge into yesterday's news-packed notebook: RHP Garrett Mock will begin the year on the minor league disabled list, according to Bowden and player development guru Bob Boone, because of a knee problem. He had a weird surgery early in the offseason, and he basically came back a bit too quickly. At the time of the trade with Arizona last August, Mock -- who is big and sturdy -- was a bit ahead of Matt Chico, who's now in the rotation. When Mock gets healthy, Boone said he'd almost certainly begin the year at Class AA.
Other minor things: Mike O'Connor will begin the year on the 60-day disabled list, according to Bowden. A good indication that we won't see him until June or July as he works his way back from what was supposed to be minor elbow surgery. The question: Will we ever see him again? Remember, when he was called up from Class AAA last year, it was supposed to be for an emergency start, and he was supposed to be sent back down. But he was poised in outings at St. Louis and against the Mets at Shea, so they kept him around. We'll see.
What else? Hmmm. Oh, shortstop Stephen King was dealing with some tendinitis issues, but seems to be better (this is all minor-league stuff, which some of you said you wanted). He was an author of horror novels in the '80s and '90s but ended up being a third-round pick last year. RHP Colton Willems, one of the first-rounders last year, is over a bit of a back problem that had him shut down for a while, and he's throwing again. Boone also said LHP Mike Hinckley, once the top prospect in the organization, has started throwing well. (And we'll get to No. 1 prospect Collin Balester at some point. They keep saying they don't want to rush him, they don't want to rush him, and I'm sure he'll start at Class AA Harrisburg. But if I were a betting man, I'd say we see him at RFK by the end of the year. Which is a bit scary, given that he's 20.))
Boone's philosophy on these guys: Put them at a level where they can succeed, and then if they dominate, move them up. "I don't want to move guys back," he said. So that could mean that a guy like Hinckley would start at high Class A Potomac and then get bumped up to Harrisburg if he succeeds.
One more thing: Cristian Guzman is swinging a bit of a mean bat right now. Acta: "For sure he's not going to hit .219."
So what does this all mean, four straight Grapefruit League wins and some encouraging signs within them? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Talked to Stan Kasten this morning: "I have to remind myself every year not to pay too much attention to spring training results." Still, he was fairly giddy, particularly about the Rule 5 choices -- Flores and Speigner.
Today: Big start for John Patterson. Heard whispers that his velocity is down a bit, topping out at 88 mph. "He's babying the ball," one person told me. He's been talked to about it, and understands it, but I think it's a big start for him. He has only one more in the spring to get ready for Opening Day. Tigers are in town today.
And I believe I really will get you lineups and all that today. Glad those pesky night games are out of the way.
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