End game, 4:26: Ryan Mattheus mops it up in the ninth, allowing one run, and the Nationals’ 14-9 victory is in the books -- in only 3 hours, 30 minutes!
<strong>End 8, 4:10:</strong> The Nationals sent 13 batters to the plate and put up a nine-spot in the eighth to take a 14-8 lead, with Bryce Harper capping the scoring with a two-run double into the right field corner. If you’re scoring at home, Harper, with two doubles in the inning, is now hitting <strike>.364 (4 for 11)</strike> .308 (4 for 13) with three RBI this spring. Brian Bixler (three-run double), Rick Ankiel (two-run homer), Alex Cora (RBI double) and Kevin Barker (RBI double) did the rest of the heavy lifting. (Ankiel probably won’t see many lefties this season, but against Houston’s Patrick Urckfitz he hit a bomb onto the roof of the storage shed in right.) Mercifully, we are heading to the ninth.
<strong>Bottom 8, 3:58:</strong> Bryce Harper just collected his first extra-base hit of the spring, bouncing a high chopper over the first baseman’s head and down the right field line for a double off lefty Patrick Urckfitz. The Nationals have runners on second and third with nobody out in the eighth.
<strong>Mid 8, 3:50:</strong> A nightmare of a defensive game for the Nationals continued as Brian Bixler, in the game at shortstop, dropped a throw from Balester that might have started an inning-ending double play. Although the runner was ruled out at second, and no error was charged on the play, Balester promptly gave up a run-scoring double to J.B. Shuck to make it 8-5, Astros. The Nationals have made three errors and numerous other defensive mistakes today.
<strong>End 7, 3:40:</strong> The Nationals scored a run on Alberto Gonzalez’s leadoff double and a pair of ground outs, to pull to within 7-5. But Jayson Werth struck out for the third time in the game to end the inning. Collin Balester now pitching for the Nationals, and Bryce Harper will bat second in the bottom of the eighth.
<strong>Mid 7, 3:19:</strong> Drew Storen’s spring struggles continued with a messy seventh inning that saw the Astros score two runs, one of them unearned. Storen gave up a triple and a single to the first two batters of the inning, and the second run scored four batters later on an infield single. The error in the inning came when Danny Espinosa booted a grounder at second base. (Bryce Harper nearly got pegged with his first error of the spring when his throw home skipped past catcher Jesus Flores, but Storen was in position backing up the play.) Storen did, however, record a pair of strikeouts in the inning. It’s 7-4, Astros.
<strong>End 6, 3:14:</strong> I pretty much missed the sixth inning while downstairs talking to Yunesky Maya. So let’s just say some stuff happened that didn’t change the score. It’s still 5-4 Astros.
<strong>End 5, 3:00:</strong> Ryan Zimmerman just crushed a fastball to right-center field for a solo homer off Bud Norris, pulling the Nationals to within 5-4. Cole Kimball heads back to the mound for a second inning of work, and Bryce Harper goes to right field.
<strong>Mid 5, 2:52:</strong> Cole Kimball pitched well in relief of Mock, allowing an infield single on a high-chopper to second, but then retiring the next three batters. Second baseman Danny Espinosa made another fine play on a hit-and-run, diving to knock down a ball in the hole and throwing to first for the out. Still 5-3, Astros.
<strong>Top 5, 2:41:</strong> Garrett Mock is now out of the game in another dreaded mid-inning pitching change, after giving up a three-run homer to Chris Johnson with no outs in the fifth.
<strong>End 4, 2:30:</strong> A one-out walk by Jeff Frazier went for naught, as Roger Bernadina struck out against Henry Villar to end the fourth. Mock opened the inning by sailing ball four over the head of Hunter Pence, then walked Brett Wallace to bring Johnson to the plate. Cole Kimball now pitching for the Nationals, who trail, 5-3.
<strong>Mid 4, 2:23:</strong> Garrett Mock gave up an unearned run in the fourth, as Ivan Rodriguez committed catcher’s interference to allow a batter to reach, and then Michael Morse made an error in right field on a shallow fly ball near the line. Mock also failed to help his own cause, deflecting a grounder up the middle by Carlos Corporan that probably would have been an easy 6-3, but instead kicked into left field for an RBI single. It’s 3-2, Nationals.
<strong>End 3, 2:10:</strong> Astros pitcher Henry Villar got us back on a nice, brisk pace by retiring the Nationals in order in the bottom of the third, including a strikeout of Adam LaRoche.
<strong>Mid 3, 2:04:</strong> Mock retired Chris Johnson on a fly ball to medium-deep center to end the inning, and the Nationals still lead, 3-1.
<strong>Top 3, 2:01</strong>: Yunesky Maya’s day just ended with a two-out walk to Brett Wallace, which followed a sharp single by Hunter Pence. Jim Riggleman just yanked Maya -- Garrett Mock is coming in. Maya gave up five hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings, and is responsible for the two runners on base. Not a very good outing for a guy who seemed ready to thrust himself into the fifth-starter conversation.
<strong>End 2, 1:53:</strong> Roger Bernadina drew a bases-loaded walk and Danny Espinosa followed by lining a two-run singled to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead. Adam LaRoche walked with one out, Jeff Frazier singled off the glove of Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, and Alberto Gonzalez reached on an error by Johnson to load the bases. For Frazier, the hit was his fourth in nine at-bats this spring (.444), including the homer he hit off New York’s CC Sabathia on Saturday.
<strong>Mid 2, 1:33:</strong> Maya gives up two more hits -- ground ball singles to Chris Johnson and Angel Sanchez -- but is helped by two nice, rangy plays by second baseman Danny Espinosa to escape the inning. But it took another 20 pitches to navigate the second, so Maya is already at 38.
<strong>End 1, 1:22:</strong> Roger Bernadina, batting leadoff and playing center field today, bunted for a single off Astros lefty J.A. Happ, stole second and moved to third with one out on a wild pitch. But he was stranded there when Jayson Werth struck out and Ryan Zimmerman grounded to short.
<strong>Mid 1, 1:14:</strong> Not a great first frame for Nationals starter Yunesky Maya, who gave up a homer and a sharp single to his first two hitters (Michael Bourn and Clint Barmes, respectively). Maya also needed 10 pitches to put away Hunter Pence for the inning’s first out, but a 4-6-3 double play prevented further damage. Nineteen pitches in the inning, 13 for strikes. Astros lead, 1-0.
<strong>ORIGINAL POST</strong>: Since Stan Kasten already <a href=”http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2011/03/kasten_has_much_to_say_about_s.html”>used up</a> all the words, I’ll make this brief. We’re about to get underway here. Stick around for plenty of delicious updates.