Nationals Notebook

Nationals pitchers continue to struggle in spring training

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010

VIERA, FLA. -- The pitching staff of the Washington Nationals entered Saturday with a collective 12.75 ERA, and before day's end it went up. In a 14-6 loss to a New York Mets team comprised predominately of spring training fodder, the Nationals submitted their third consecutive day of atrocious pitching.

In their first four spring training games, the Nationals have allowed 50 runs, 67 hits, 18 walks, and 10 home runs. With few exceptions, "we haven't a lot of good innings, never mind games," Manager Jim Riggleman said. The ERA now stands at 12.82.

With likely opening day starter John Lannan, projected setup man Sean Burnett, and likely bullpen member Tyler Walker pitching, the Nationals still couldn't stop the Mets. Those three allowed 10 runs on 13 hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings, Walker yielding five runs in an inning and Burnett four in two-thirds of an inning.

Conventional wisdom suggests March 6 is too early to worry, even if the Nationals have been outscored 50-23 in four Grapefruit League games. Manager Jim Riggleman said the dismal results have not affected the team's hopeful mood or created any losing fatigue.

"I circulate in the clubhouse every day," Riggleman said. "The leaders, the core players of our ballclub, they're all very excited about our prospects to play well this year. At the same time, it doesn't feel good to get beat. I don't care if it's a spring training game or not."

The battered pitching staff pointed to adrenaline as the primary culprit. Few pitchers have been able to keep the ball down, leading to deep fly balls. All the Nationals' bullpen candidates and most of the starters have thrown once, and Riggleman believes the second outings will be improved.

"The hardest part is, it's the first time you get adrenaline going," Burnett said. "The biggest thing was not so much overthrowing, just feeling strong. Next time, I've just got to settle down a little bit. I could have thrown it through a brick wall today. But I couldn't get it below the belt."

"It's impossible for people to judge this team yet," catcher Wil Nieves said. "We're going to win. We're going to be good. We have great arms here and great pitching. I know it's going to get better."

Guzmán makes debut

Shortstop Cristian Guzmán made his spring training debut as a designated hitter, going 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run. Riggleman wanted to ease Guzmán, who had shoulder surgery in October, into the lineup, and Guzmán will have Sunday off before playing shortstop Monday. Guzmán could have played shortstop Saturday, Riggleman said, but "we just want to let him build up a little more." . . .

Catcher Jesús Flores, recovering from right shoulder surgery, still has not swung a bat and has not set a timetable for his return. "It's going to be a while," he said. Flores's most significant milestone this spring has been throwing 120 feet. . . .

Mike Morse and Eric Bruntlett, both competing for a bench role, each hit home runs for the Nationals.

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