The Nationals committed three errors on Monday and were spared several others by lucky breaks and official scoring quirks. They twice had to pull pitchers in mid-inning (generally a spring training no-no) and saw all but one of their six pitchers give up multiple hits and at least one earned run. But they also won, 14-9, over the Houston Astros in a grueling affair that lasted three hours, 30 minutes.
Here are some of the takeaways from this one:
*Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ 18-year-old phenom, stroked a pair of doubles in the Nationals’ nine-run eighth inning. The first came against lefty Patrick Urckfitz, a chopper over the first baseman’s head, while the second, against right-hander Jorge DeLeon, came on a high fastball which Harper ripped into the right-field corner to drive home two runs. The hits left Harper with a .308 batting average (4 for 13) and three RBI this spring.
“The second one was very impressive,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, “and the fact the first one came off a left-hander is good enough by itself. The second ball he hit was another fastball up that’s tough to get to, and he’s getting to them.”
Harper acknowledged the difficulty in going to the plate practically every time to face a pitcher he’s never seen before.
“I think it was Ted Williams who said, ‘I hate hitting in All-Star Games and against rookies’ - because he’s never seen them before,” Harper said. “So going up there and seeing guys I’ve never seen, especially against relievers and closers -- they’re going to come at you with sliders, knuckleballs, split-fingers, you know, everything they have in their kitchen sink. So I’m just trying to go up there and if I see a ball up - like [Riggleman] always tells me, ‘If you see a ball up, use your hands and drive it.’ So it’s working out pretty well.”
*The Nationals’ three errors Monday leaves them with a total of 12 in eight games this spring. For a team that supposedly built its offseason strategy largely around improving their defense, this is unacceptable.
“We haven’t played good,” Riggleman said. “We’ve made way too many errors, period. We’ve got to clean it up.”
*Reliever Drew Storen, coming off two consecutive sub-par outings, gave up three hits and two runs (one earned) in his only inning of work, but part of it can be attributed to the leaky defense the Nationals played behind him, and part to the fact the Nationals ordered him to throw almost exclusively fastballs in order to work on his command of that pitch.
“We’re asking him to throw more fastballs, which is going to get him hit a little bit,” Riggleman said. “He’s not on top of his game by any means, but it was maybe not as bad as the linescore would say.”
Said Storen: “I didn’t like the results, but the way I pitched was a lot better and a big step ahead from my last time out. I used my fastball more, and showed I can do that.”