Ross Detwiler’s pitch selection, Danny Espinosa’s baserunning — and other notes

Ross Detwiler. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ross Detwiler. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ross Detwiler started Saturday’s 8-2 split squad win over the Atlanta Braves in Viera and allowed one run on six hits, several of them infield singles, over two-plus innings. The left-hander allowed a lead-off single to Freddie Freeman in the third inning and Williams hooked him because he had thrown 51 pitches, just beyond the prescribed pitch limit for a second spring start. Detwiler, the incumbent to win the fifth starter’s spot, used the outing to focus on his pitch selection.

Nationals coaches want him to throw more offspeed pitches — and so does Detwiler. But because he is so accustomed to relying on his sinking fastball, he is using these Grapefruit League games to essentially teach himself a different way to pitch. He needs to develop the confidence now in his curveball and change-up, and even his developing cutter, so that he doesn’t revert to his fastball if he struggles in a regular season outing.

“I’m not quite there yet with rhythm and all that,” he said. “That’s something pretty much everybody works on in spring training and you get to the season, you get your stride. So I’m looking forward to the next start. I just think it’s going to keep getting a little better every time, and by the season’s start, let’s hope it’s all there.”

Detwiler was pleased that he notched an out, against Andrelton Simmons, on a change-up. But later, he couldn’t get Freeman to bite on any of the three low curveballs he threw. The left-hander knows he needs to throw all of his pitches with the same conviction, even though he may be working on it. If he doesn’t, the breaking ball may get hit and hurt his budding confidence in it even more.

“It’s always good to get in certain situations in spring so you don’t see them for the first time in the season and then try stuff out,” he said. “I’m kind of getting a lot of baserunners. Something I need to work on is having a guy in scoring position and not just throwing fastballs up there. Either throwing a curveball early in the count or being able to bounce one later. Pretty much two pitches.”

>>> Danny Espinosa started at second base, went 1 for 2 and drew a walk. His lone hit was a double to center field from the left side in the second inning. Four batters later, Denard Span’s swinging bunt hit a ball back to pitcher David Hale and Espinosa showed off his standout baserunning. Span reached base on the bobbled ball and Espinosa, who was at second after a Chris Snyder walk, made a good read on the play. He raced around third and scored from second on an infield single. He slid in under the tag at home.

Much is made about Espinosa’s stellar defense and offensive struggles, but his speed and baserunning could be a key asset if he makes the team. From 2011 to 2012, he stole 37 bases in 49 tries. And, so far this spring, he is 2 for 14 with several hard-hit lineouts and only one strikeout.

“Danny’s got his stroke, man” Williams said. “He was really aggressive on the basepaths, which is good. … The ball he scored on, he just never stopped understanding that the ball is going to first base. One, it takes a good secondary (lead). Two, not watching the baseball from second to third. Three, it takes an aggressive, good turn at third base to be able to score. That’s part of our DNA. The way we want to play.”

>>> Yunesky Maya, the Cuban right-hander the Nationals signed for $6 million in 2010 but turned out to be a bust and was released in November, returned to Space Coast Stadium for the first time. He is in Braves camp on a minor league deal with a big league spring training invitation. His former team took no pity on him.

Bryce Harper singled off him in the fifth inning. Ryan Zimmerman hit a towering two-run home run off him to center field, his first of the spring. Adam LaRoche launched a solo home to right.

>>> In the other split squad game, the Nationals tied the Cardinals, 4-4, in 10 innings. Chris Young started, allowed one run on two hits, walked three and struck out one. A.J. Cole followed, fired 2 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out three. Aaron Barrett pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings, while Clay Hensley and Taylor Hill each added spotless innings. Daniel Stange allowed three runs on three hits in one inning.

Destin Hood hit a three-run home run, Jamey Carroll went 1 for 2 with an RBI and Anthony Rendon doubled. Bench coach Randy Knorr managed the game in Jupiter.

>>> The Nationals are expected to make their first round of cuts on Sunday.

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