The Nationals look sharp, and other notes from Game 1

Adam Kilgore
Copyright 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011; 7:41 PM

Bryce Harper's dispiriting debut, naturally, will receive the brunt of attention compared to the rest of the proceedings today at Digital Domain Park. But Harper's two strikeouts may have been the only blemish for the Nationals in their 9-3 win over the Mets. Last year, the Nationals began the spring with 11 consecutive losses, earned with rotten pitching and sloppy play. It's just one game - one spring training game - but today was the polar opposite. The Nationals took extra bases. They bunted for hits. Their bullpen retired the final 11 batters of the game. During initial workouts, Nationals officials drilled into players a theme of hustling. For one game, they adhered. "That's kind of the message that got delivered to us in spring training early on, before games started," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We just carried it out. Everyone pretty much hustled today we picked up a couple extra bases. Hopefully, for the rest of spring training, we continue to do the same thing." In many ways, Desmond set the tone for the Nationals' crisp performance. In the first inning, he clobbered a fly ball to the warning track in center, and as Angel Pagan gave, it seemed the ball would either be caught or creep over the fence. But when the ball ricocheted off Pagan's glove, Desmond had already almost reached second base. He slid into third with a triple. In his third at-bat, Desmond lined to right. Nick Evans made a diving attempt but couldn't corral the ball. Desmond, having bolted out of the box, motored into second with a double. When Michael Morse flied to right, he tagged up and went to third, beating the throw with another slide. The Nationals' hustle showed up elsewhere, too. Wilson Ramos went from first to third, for example, on an error by second baseman Luis Castillo on a chopper. General Manager Mike Rizzo assembled this Nationals team hoping for a more athletic brand of baseball. While it's hazardous, if not foolish, to draw conclusions from the first game of spring, the Nationals enacted that vision today. A couple other notes before wrapping up: >>>Jesus Flores made his first appearance as a catcher in a major league game since May 9, 2009, when a foul tip dinged his right shoulder and led to excruciating injuries and rehab. He pinch-hit for Jesus Flores in the fifth and then caught the remainder of the game. Flores went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a pop up, but it was "a milestone," Riggleman said, for him to even take the field. "He looked fine back there, blocked some balls well," Riggleman said. "It's all coming back together for him, but it's good to see him back there." >>>Nationals pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts, four in three innings by starter Chad Gaudin and two in one inning by left-handed reliever Doug Slaten. Relievers Slaten, Todd Coffey and Adam Carr pitched consecutive 1-2-3 innings. >>>After results came back for reliever Cla Meredith's arthrogram, it is "undetermined as to whether he will need surgery," Riggleman said. If Meredith needed surgery on his right elbow, it would be "significant," Riggleman said. Given the circumstances, it seems likely that, should Meredith require surgery, it would be Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery.

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