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Looking back and linking up

Never had a chance to wrap up the Nationals loss to the Astros yesterday in Kissimmee, and here's a quick recap of what was important.

The Good: The Nationals' two best players this spring, one position player and one pitcher, have been a pair 20-something who have never played on a regular basis in the major leagues.

The sample size is small and he's playing against guys destined for bus rides, but what fun is spring training if you can't get excited about a player who tears apart Florida and puts up double-take stats, a player like Ian Desmond?

Yesterday, Desmond went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI single. "It was important for me to stay hot like that," he said. "I saw the ball well today. I'm seeing pitches."

Seeing pitches is one way to put. Destroying the Grapefruit League is another. In 21 at-bats, Desmond has punched up a .476/.542/.857. He's 10 for 21 this spring with five extra base hits and 11 RBI. He's played awesome at short and capably in the outfield.

"Ian," Manager Jim Riggleman said, "has just been outstanding."

One line of thinking holds that Desmond should start the year in Class AAA Syracuse in order to play shortstop full-time. If he makes the Nationals, he will likely be a backup for Cristian Guzman and an outfielder. Desmond, though, said today that playing both positions helps him play more instinctively, and better, at shortstop.

"Actually, for me, it's opposite," Desmond said. "If I'm working at short, I nit-pick the smallest, little fundamental thing. It ends up snowballing. If I'm out moving around in other positions, I can focus on rightfield one day. Then when I play infield, it's just natural, doing what I know how to do."

Drew Storen insists all of this has been a challenge for him, pitching for the Nationals in his first major league spring training. "There's no easy day when you're facing those kind of hitters," Storen said. He just makes it seem that way.

Storen, really, has been the Nationals best pitcher this spring. (Tyler Clippard deserves consideration, too. After today, when a certain tall righthander makes his second start, that may be amended.) In three innings yesterday, Storen allowed one hit and one walk to go with three strikeouts.

Those are only spring training stats, and early ones at that. But the way he's pitched extends beyond the numbers. He's recorded his nine outs with 34 pitches. Yesterday, he threw 11 strikes and four balls. He struck out Geoff Blum on three pitches - a fastball, a curve and a slider. The Nationals may use caution and start him in the minor leagues, but so far he has made a convincing argument for beginning the season in Washington.

"I want to be an impact guy," Storen said. "I don't want to be a guy who just has a jersey."

Storen faced trouble yesterday for the first time. After striking out Blum, Pedro Feliz popped an 0-2 pitch behind first base, where it fell to the turf for a hit after an awkward attempt by Chris Duncan. Up came Jason Castro, Storen's catcher at Stanford during his freshman year. He walked Castro on five pitches, blaming his approach, not that it was his first time throwing from the stretch in a game.

"I think I was trying to do too much," Storen said. "I was trying to be a little too cute."

With men on first and second, Storen got the second out with one pitch, a pop to first by Humberto Quintero. He then struck out Edwin Mayonset on three pitches, the final one a slider Mayonset watched.

"There were situations when you had to make that big pitch," Storen said. "There's really no substitute for a game situation for that type of stuff."

For a while, it actually seemed like a challenge.

"It was good to get myself in a little bit of trouble," Storen said. "Fortunately, I got out of it."

The Bad: Matt Chico provided one of the highlights of the Nationals spring last Sunday against the Mets, firing two scoreless innings without a batter reaching base in his first big league performance since Tommy John surgery. Yesterday, he was most responsible for the Nationals latest loss.

Chico blew up in one-plus innings. He allowed six earned runs on eight hits and was not able to record an out in the four-run seventh inning. When Chico entered the game, the Nationals had a 5-1 lead. When the runners he was responsible for stopped scoring, the Nationals trailed 7-5.

"Offspeed just wasn't there today," Chico said. "I had to rely on the fastball. Up here, you can't just throw fastballs. I was just disappointed in myself."

The Ugly: After controlling the game almost all afternoon, the Nationals seemed on track for their first win of the spring. Instead, they dropped to 0-9 this spring and remained the lone team without a victory.

The Nationals had taken a lead in part because of a home run by Ryan Zimmerman, who is quietly having a great spring (.412/.412/.824 in 17 at-bats). After Chico's unraveling, the Nationals came back with one run in the eighth when Justin Maxwell singled, stole second, went to third on a catcher's throwing error, and scored on a wild pitch. In the ninth, Willie Harris walked, moved to third on Eric Bruntlett's double and scored on a Mike Mores groundout.

The score tied, Sean Burnett came back out for a second inning. He struck out Kevin Cash to start the inning, then allowed a walk and a single. J.B. Shuck singled to left, and the public address system started blaring "Celebration" before Humberto Quintero was halfway between third and home. That's the first time that's happened this spring.

As for today, we all get our second look at Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Nationals. We can start drawing some conclusions about the Nationals. The Nationals have a new bench coach this year, and I'll be adding more on John McLaren later today.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 14, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
 
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Next: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: 'Money has nothing to do with who's going to play'

Comments

Thanks AK.
I'd be curious, if Adam takes a day off, do the Nationals win?
Even since Mr. Kilgore came to town.....

Posted by: Sunderland | March 14, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Dis Storen pitch three innings yesterday?

Posted by: Section222 | March 14, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

No, Storen pitched just one inning, described above.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 14, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Of interest this year: growth, improvement. Not monumental growth over last year (would be nice), but solid strides meshed with excellent baseball. Improvements in individual performances that could impact overall record would be great, but would rather see more than a few solid series against solid teams, and win some of those series. Show something to next year's FA class.

Specifically looking for that lineup to improve over last year (on paper, looks good), and for the defense to improve (ditto). Starting pitching we know is an issue right now, but it's a stop-gap, temporary rotation: got to give time for the kiddie corp to get well/ get better.

What I don't want to see: no improvements with blown saves, lack of energy that translates into boring games, bad defense.

And we've got better communication: AK, MZ, and more than a few other feeds.

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 14, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention BG. ;-)

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And we've got better communication: AK, MZ, and more than a few other feeds.

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 14, 2010 9:25 AM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 14, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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