I never put a bow on the Nationals' 7-5 loss to the Cardinals last night, mainly because of the two-hour drive home from Jupiter. That's here now, in the post below.
Also, an NJ programming note: I'll be taking the standard beat writer mid-spring break over the next four days. Fortunately, I'm leaving the teams in the capable hands of Dave Sheinin, who you can follow on Twitter.
Anyway, be nice to Dave. Here's what stood out from yesterday:
>>> Derek Norris came to bat yesterday in the eighth inning, the Nationals down 7-4. He took a swing at a fastball from Cardinals right-hander Maikel Cleto, with the same aim he always has when he's in the batter's box.
"Just trying to get on-base," Norris said. "Fortunately, it went over the fence."
In his second appearance at the Nationals' major league camp, Norris smoked his first home run, a line drive to left that crept out of the park despite the howling wind blowing in. Off the bat, Norris figured it would stay in. But, like a well-executed British Open golf shot, the liner stayed under the wind and kept carrying.
After his experience last year, Norris, widely regarded as one of the top 75 prospects in baseball, feels more at ease. "I'm a little more comfortable," Norris said. "Last year, I guess you could say I felt, not necessarily out of place, but just wasn't accustomed to all the things that are different from minor league camp. I feel a little more relaxed, a little more confident in what I want to do."
And what Norris wants to do is get on base. Norris struggled through a hand injury last season, never feeling 100 percent until after the year ended, and he hit only .235. But his approach still makes him perhaps the Nationals' best prospect behind Bryce Harper. Norris walked 89 times in 399 plate appearances, giving him a .413 on-base percentage, second in the Carolina League among players with at least 250 plate appearances.
Norris sometimes wondered if he belonged last spring training, but this year, he feels differently. In some ways, catching major leaguers seems easier.
"In the minor leagues sometimes, especially in A ball, you kind of feel like a hockey goalie instead of a catcher," Norris said. "Pitches are coming in everywhere. You can feel a little more comfortable. Hitting, same thing. You can look for that one pitch and not have to worry about, well, is he going to throw me a strike? It's 'Is he going to throw me my pitch?' "
Indeed, Norris' approach at the plate may translate better in the majors than the low minors. Norris struck out 94 times last year, many of them looking. Both and the Nationals were fine with the majority of the backwards Ks - Norris, they believe, has a better command of the strike zone than the beginner umpires who populate the Carolina League.
"The pitchers, obviously, their stuff gets a little bit better," Norris said. "But it's nice to know they're going to be around the zone. You don't have to worry about 98 whizzing by your head and then painting on the outside corner. That's a plus, too. It definitely helps."
It's seemingly a matter of if, not when, Norris reaches the major leagues, and he seems to know that, too. Norris did not receive the home run ball he hit, and he didn't mind. It may have been his first homer on a big league diamond, but it was just spring training. "I'll wait," he said, "until the real thing happens."
>>> The Nationals had allowed four walks in 30 innings before Garrett Mock took the mound yesterday. In 2/3 of an inning, he yielded three.
Mock allowed five runs in his truncated first spring outing. Thanks to a crucial, bases-loaded error by second baseman Danny Espinosa, only one of the runs was earned. But by walking three batters, Mock did nothing to help himself, either in terms of his success in the inning or in changing the team's impression of him.
The Nationals, as they have hoped for literally years, are hoping Mock can harness his vast potential. Mock possesses a mid-90s fastball and a wicked curve, but, again, he could not prove that he has command of them.
"I'm not frustrated with him," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I just take it as, it's his first time out there. Let's see where we go. You see the quality of stuff that he has, you got to try to be patient with him. The arm is there. The breaking stuff is there. We've been patient with him. We'll continue to be."
>>> The Nationals' string of crisp games came to an end. They made two errors, Espinosa's booted grounder and a dropped flip by Shairon Martis while covering first. Jonathan Van Every got picked off. A pop-up dropped in shallow right between Espinosa and Bryce Harper, when Harper called Espinosa off late when he should have let Espinosa catch it.
It wasn't all ugly. Nyjer Morgan, though he's 1 for 10 with no walks, dropped a bunt single down the third base line. Doug Slaten pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Todd Coffey pitched a scoreless ninth.
"We've got to play better than that," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "Overall, we'll take it. Some good things happened."
FROM THE POST
New third base coach Bo Porter has always known he wanted to coach, and he's using his experience, in part, to help Nyjer Morgan become a better, smarter base stealer.