Day 1 of Nationals' spring schedule is in the books
Reliever Jason Bergmann, one of two Washington Nationals pitchers who surrendered a home run on his very first pitch on the very first day of spring training games, summarized the feeling in the Nationals clubhouse afterward.
"The good thing is," Bergmann said, "it can't get any worse."
It probably wasn't that bad, and everything bad that did happen was blunted by the obvious fact that it's March 4, for crying out loud. Still, on their first day against real competition, the Nationals lost both their split-squad games -- 15-5 against the Houston Astros and 10-4 against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter.
The ugly results - which included a nine-run inning by the Astros - marred a milestone day. The Nationals were excited about playing games, and they wanted a good taste in their mouths going forward, and they were disappointed things went as poorly as they did.
But, look, again, it's March 4. Nothing that happened Thursday will really matter for the team, and no damage any one player did is irreversible. Manager Jim Riggleman said the events will have scant bearing on the ultimate complexion of the roster.
"Good, bad, or indifferent, these first couple outings, you've got to let them get the bugs out," Riggleman said. "You take a lot of things into consideration."
Now, if Riggleman wanted to use Thursday as an audition for the starting rotation, Shairon Martis, pitching in relief, would have been the biggest victim. Martis, handed a 5-0 lead, allowed six earned runs on six hits -- none of them cheap -- while allowing one home run in 1 1/3 innings.
Throwing mostly fastballs, Martis struggled to locate his pitches. "It was nothing but high," he said. Martis came on in the third inning and retired the side in order, but even that was deceiving -- his first pitch was a rocket to left that Roger Bernadina snared with a diving catch, and his second pitch was a bunt out.
In the fourth, Martis's second inning, Hunter Pence smashed a leadoff home run. The wheels came off. Even when Martis did keep the ball down, that backfired, too. He spiked a slider about 55 feet, and, with a man on third, it scooted away from catcher Nieves.
"At least he kept the ball down," Nieves said.
Martis was not alone. The Astros blasted five home runs, two of them by Pence. Some were the product of misplaced pitches and some -- Bergmann's especially, in my opinion -- were created by the vicious wind blowing out to right-centerfield. Closer Matt Capps, the other pitcher to allow a homer on his maiden pitch, allowed two runs on three hits in his lone inning.
"When you keep the ball up, they've got guys with power and they just hit it in the air," catcher Nieves said. "There was a pretty good chance it was going to go out. It's tough to face good hitters with the wind blowing out. If we would have hit it up, it would have been the same thing."
Of course, in that same wind, the Nationals managed five hits. They scored five quick runs, mainly on walks and some sloppy defense by the Astros. Bernadina was a spark, going 1 for 2 with an infield single.
Pitching-wise, Garrett Mock and J.D. Martin, two starting pitchers vying for a spot in the back of the rotation, delivered some good news for the Nationals. Mock pitched two scoreless innings, allowing three hits and no walks while throwing an efficient 21 pitches. Mock was helped by a relay throw from shortstop Alberto Gonzalez to Nieves that saved a run at the plate, which Riggleman felt was a positive because it showed him his defense can help if pitchers just throws strikes. Mock felt good about the way he went after hitters, which is what he really wants to do this spring.
Mock started Michael Bourn, the first batter he faced, with two straight balls. That flew in the face of his stated plan to attack hitters, but his response satisfied him. He threw a strike, which Bourn chopped weakly to second base.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about," Mock said. "Of course in an ideal situation, I don't want to go 2-0 on the first guy I'm facing. But when I get to 2-0, am I going to try to make a perfect pitch and leave it up to an umpire to make the decision, or am I going to attack the guy and trust my stuff, trust what I'm doing and also trust the guys behind me? ... There were some good things that I liked, but also getting ahead of guys. There's always something to take from it, but I felt like it was an okay start today."
Martin was even sharper. He allowed no hits and no walks in two innings, throwing 14 of his 19 pitches for strikes. He pitched in Jupiter -- the city, not the planet -- and I'm in Kissimmee. Martin's thoughts on his start will have to wait for Friday.
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