What's up with the awful defense?

Dave Sheinin
Copyright 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 9:41 AM

Let's not sugar-coat this: The Nationals' defense the last few days has been atrocious. Seven errors in three games, and perhaps a half-dozen other misplays that weren't charged as errors. (Example: Late in Monday's game, non-roster first baseman Kevin Barker had a foul pop bounce out of his glove at the railing near the Nationals' dugout, which was generously ruled a "no-play" by the official scorer.) "We've got to clean it up," Manager Jim Riggleman said after Monday's three-error horror show. Here's the bigger question: Is there a major problem here -- or is this merely a case of "getting all the rinky dinks out" (to quote the eminently quotable Bryce Harper) in the early stages of the spring? The answer, of course, is complicated by the fact the Nationals built a large part of their offseason strategy around improving their defense and athleticism. Here are a few reasons why I think we may want to wait before panicking over the defense: *It's early. It stands to reason that with defense, just as with pitching and hitting, it takes time to get up to game-speed. You can take a million ground balls off fungo bats during infield practice -- or a million swings off sore-armed coaches during batting practice -- but nothing can replicate game-speed. We're eight games into the Grapefruit League schedule, and many of the Nationals' regulars have played in half the games or fewer. According to these stats, 14 of the 30 teams in baseball are averaging at least an error a game so far this spring. *Four of the Nationals' errors were committed by players who have no chance of making the roster. (Two on Brian Bixler, and one each on Shairon Martis and Laynce Nix.) *Adam LaRoche, the Nationals' slick-fielding, error-saving first baseman, has played only once in the field this spring. Maybe he scoops the errant throw from Ian Desmond on Sunday that wound up as a throwing error, maybe not. But that was part of the reason the Nationals signed him. ***** The Nationals are in Port St. Lucie today, with a 1:10 p.m. first pitch against the New York Mets, and Jordan Zimmermann on the hill for the Nationals. I'll check in from Digital Domain Park in awhile. ***** One quick personal note: This is my last day filling in for Mr. Kilgore this go-round, and I want to urge you to show your beat writer some love. These guys -- and that includes Bill Ladson, Ben Goessling and Mark Zuckerman -- work their tails off, routinely putting in 12-hour days and dealing with all sorts of indignities, from balky wireless coverage to horrible I-95 traffic to the occasional hangover. In my days on the beat, all I had to produce on a daily basis was a main story and a notebook. Kilgore is cranking out all of that, plus blogging a half-dozen or so times, plus tweeting regularly. And I'm not sure how much you see the work of other beat writers in other markets, but he's one of the best. Trust me: You're in good hands here. ***** FROM THE POST: Nyjer Morgan is trying to keep an "even keel," despite his spring struggles and the competition closing in.

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