Last Tuesday night in Port St. Lucie, Tom Gorzelanny felt tired in the fourth inning, “probably because it was close to my bed time,” he joked. Some observers wondered about his stamina, a question after he arrived in camp following a bout with walking pneumonia. One scout said it looked like Gorzelanny “hit a wall” against the Mets.
Today, Gorzelanny answered any questions about his durability, further sealing a fifth starter spot that’s been earmarked for him since the Nationals traded for him in January. The Detroit Tigers brought the varsity to Viera, stuffing their lineup with regulars Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta. And Gorzelanny held them to two runs – both on wind-blown homer by Don Kelly – over five innings and 84 pitches. It was his longest start of the spring, an outing that proved he’s finally caught up to his teammates following an understandably slow start to spring.
“I definitely could have gone even further,” Gorzelanny said. “It was good to feel like that.”
Afterward, Manager Jim Riggleman said, “It would be very hard at this point not to have Gorzelanny in there” as the fifth starter, which should not come as news to anyone. The Nationals created a “competition” that included Chad Gaudin, Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya. But, really, unless the Nationals traded a starter or Gorzelanny started throwing with his right arm, the rotation has been virtually decided all spring. General Manager Mike Rizzo acquired Gorzelanny to start, period.
That being the case, Gorzelanny’s performance was probably more encouraging to the Nationals than it was to him. He did feel comfortable completely comfortable with his slider, but he threw that Miguel Cabrera swung and missed for strike three, the best breaking ball Gorzelanny has thrown all spring, he said. Gorzelanny got three strikeouts, all swinging, a good sign against a solid lineup.
>>> Manager Jim Riggleman placed Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina in the starting lineup today, giving all three center field candidates a shot at Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. Tomorrow, all three will travel to Jupiter to play the Cardinals.
Over the final eight games of spring, it seems, Riggleman will give himself every chance to watch those three play in making his decision on the starting center field spot. Many other voices in the organization, including Rizzo, Davey Johnson, Bob Boone and others, will be heard as well.
“It’s just a tough call there,” Riggleman said. Michael “Morse has done such a good job there and now we got people fighting for a job in center. It’s kind of like earlier, all of pitchers who were starting, nobody pitched themselves out of a starting rotation job. And none of these center fielders are playing themselves out of a job. It’s good.”
Today, Morgan, who started at designated hitter, went 2 for 4 with two strikeouts, his hits a bloop single to left and a sharp grounder through the left side for a single. Ankiel went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, dropping his spring batting average to .186. Bernadina went 1 for 4 and also lined out to center off Verlander, who thoroughly dominated the Nationals’ lineup for six innings.
One baseball source outside the Nationals’ organization who is familiar with their thinking believes the Nationals will start the season with Ankiel in center field and will option Morgan to the minor leagues. But Riggleman said the decision will come down to the final days of spring.
“We can take it to the end,” Riggleman said. “We’ve got a lot of eyes on it upstairs. We’ve got a lot of opinions, a lot of ideas. I’m going to have to sign off on one of them here. But I don’t really have to do it until pretty close to the end.”
>>> Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen have side-by-side lockers in the Nationals clubhouse. After the game today, Clippard extended his first to Storen, who bumped it with his. They sat on stools for several minutes, talking over their performance.
Both Clippard and Storen are trying to find their best form, and they both made small progress today. Storen “threw one bad pitch,” Riggleman said, a two-run double by Danny Worth on a breaking ball. The hit would not have been as costly had Storen not had to pitch around an error by Danny Espinosa, who dropped a wind-blown pop-up while playing shortstop. Clippard did not allow any runs in his lone inning, but he did loaded the bases on two hits and a walk before escaping without any damage.
“He’s having a little trouble just nailing down consistent strikes,” Riggleman said. “He’ll throw a couple great pitches, and then he’ll throw a couple that are well out of the zone. I’m glad he’s going home with a zero behind his name so he can feel like he made some progress.”
>>> The Nationals have now lost seven straight, a streak that dropped their record to 10-12 this spring. The latest loss got ugly late, with the Nationals making four errors. The worst play came when catcher Wilson Ramos tried to pick a runner off first base and the ball skipped into right field. Jayson Werth made a good throw to cutoff Alex Cora, who whirled and made a needless throw to third base that skipped by Jerry Hairston. When the dust settled, two runners who started on first and second had scored on a ball that was never put into play by a batter.
“For 6 2/3 innings, I thought we played really good baseball. Then for 2 1/3, the wheels fell off,” Riggleman said. “They were errors of aggression, errors of effort. Nobody was quitting. Everybody was giving effort. After 6 2/3, it was a different ballgame. It wasn’t pretty.”