Greetings from George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, where the Nationals play the Yankees today at 1:05 p.m., and where I have arrived early to work on some Yankees stuff while I await the Nationals’ team bus from Viera.
There is still plenty of meat left on the bones of Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Braves yesterday in Viera, some of which you folks have already picked over in the comments section of the live-blog thread. But here are a few quick observations and notes to toss out there this morning:
Manager Jim Riggleman called Jason Marquis’s performance (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 W, 1 K) “exceptional,” and that’s a fair assessment. Marquis needed only 24 pitches to navigate his three innings, and collected six of his nine outs via ground balls -- a pretty good sign that his trademark sinker is working early in camp.
*Closer Drew Storen has now endured back-to-back sub-par outings, and he beat himself up pretty badly after the game. “It’s early, but obviously something has to change, because I’m just not very good right now,” he said. But I wouldn’t get too worried about Storen at this point -- he’s getting beat mostly with his breaking ball, which is a “feel” pitch that takes time to refine. And since Storen backed off his throwing program this winter, while attending classes at Stanford, it stands to reason that it will take him longer this spring to regain the feel for the breaking ball. If we’re still having this conversation on, say, March 27, we’ll start worrying.
*Another tough game for Nyjer Morgan, who struck out twice and tapped back to the mound in his three plate appearances. That leaves him with a slash line of .077/.077/.077 this spring. It’s still too early to question Morgan’s standing with the Nationals, but suffice it to say he will have to prove he can get on base at a healthy clip in order to maintain his hold on the leadoff job.
*After Bryce Harper struck out feebly against Braves lefty Brett Oberholtzer -- leaving Harper at 1 for 8 with three strikeouts this spring -- I asked Riggleman if it was compounding Harper’s difficulties that the majority of his plate appearances are coming against relievers, including a healthy dose of lefties, many of whom have unusual deliveries. “Some of these lefties who’ve been around a little bit, that’s why they’re in there -- they can get lefties out on the outer half of plate with breaking balls,” Riggleman said. “But with all the other challenges he’s faced, he’s always met and exceeded [them], so we think it’s all just good learning process.”
Harper, of course, is on the Nationals’ travel squad today, though he is not in the starting lineup. (That lineup goes: Hairston CF, Desmond SS, Zimmerman 3B, Morse RF, Rodriguez C, Norris DH, Marrero 1B, Frazier LF, Bixler 2B, Gaudin P.) It will be interesting to see if Harper gets any face time with some of the Yankees’ “studs” he grew up worshipping, and also what sort of reaction he gets from the crowd when/if he comes to the plate.
And this seems like as good a time as any to point out that I have a gazillion-word profile/cover story on Harper coming out in next Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, with an awesome cover shot and plenty of additional photos inside from photographer Jonathan Newton. Look for it online sometime next week, and make sure to get the hard copy in the March 13 newspaper.