Nothing, really, can be gleaned from the Nationals first spring game, a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros. As Davey Johnson put it, “It’s so dang early.” With that caveat, the Nationals’ best hitter today was Jesus Flores.
Flores had two of the Nationals eight hits, a scorched line drive off the left-center field wall off Kyle Weiland and a rope to the right field corner off Brett Myers. Flores entered this spring as a clear backup to Wilson Ramos, but he’s playing with a fresh outlook one year removed from finally healing the torn labrum in his right shoulder.
“Just confidence,” Flores said. “My confidence is back. I know what I’m doing now. I’m more focused on doing my stuff. It’s not worrying about what’s going to happen with my shoulder. It’s more now play baseball, relax, have fun. Before, it was too much worrying about, ‘Don’t go back to Triple A. I have to do my job because I want to stay in the bigs. I don’t want to get hurt again.’ All that kind of stuff, where you cannot concentrate and play well.”
Said Manager Davey Johnson: “I’ve liked everything I’ve seen about him. Obviously, the winter helped him. He’s throwing a lot better. He looks more confident, more sure of himself.”
Flores has bristled in the past about losing playing time to Ramos, his close friend. Still only 27, Flores wants to prove he can play every day. But today, he also expressed comfort with playing behind Ramos.
“If that’s what it is, I’m prepared for it,” Flores said. “I just want to help the team win.”
>>> When Ross Detwiler went ahead in count 0-2 against Jack Cust, he was in the middle of an impressive first appearance. He was throwing hard fastballs and biting sliders, striking out two of the five batters he had faced. The only base runner had reached on a dribbling infield single.
And then, with Cust on the ropes, Flores called a high fastball out of the zone. Detwiler obliged. And his outing took a sharp downturn.
“I’m not a fan of the catcher calling an 0-2 fastball up in the zone,” Johnson said. Detwiler “had trouble getting back down.”
Detwiler ended up losing Cust, walking him. And then he left a 1-0 changeup up in the strike zone, and Chris Johnson pulverized the ball over the 410-foot mark on the center field fence.
Detwiler, who figures to start the season in the bullpen, looked awfully sharp for his first spring tune-up. But the results looked bad because of that one hiccup.
>>> Sean Burnett had his first chance to test out his new approach to spring games, focusing less on results and more on honing all of his pitches. He ended up excelling in both areas, throwing a scoreless inning and striking out two while working on his slider.
“I was able to throw a couple breaking balls for strikes, probably more than I threw all of spring training last year,” Burnett said. “Everything was good today.”
An example of Burnett’s approach came against right-handed hitter George Springer. Burnett worked a three-ball count, a situation that last year Burnett would have tried to work out of with his sinker. Instead, he threw a slider and walked Springer. He typically would not have tried to nibble on the edge of the zone, but he wanted to try the pitch in that situation.
“I was trying to work a slider in on a righty and just missed low,” Burnett said. “You don’t want to walk anybody, but at the same time, I got a few extra pitches in. I got my full workload. I feel like I made progress toward the next outing. Last year, I just tried to put up zeros and try and compete. I feel like I’m just trying to build until the season starts.”