It’s only March 6, but it appears the rivalry between the Phillies and Nationals knows no bounds. In windy conditions on Wednesday afternoon in Clearwater, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg lost control of a fastball during an at-bat against Chase Utley in the third inning and plunked him in the back ankle. This, it appears, sparked the mini-kerfuffle between the two well-known foes.
The next inning, Phillies starter Roy Halladay, renown for his pinpoint command, missed wide inside on a pitch to Tyler Moore with two outs. The fastball sailed behind Moore and to the backstop. Later, Halladay did little to assuage questions about whether his miss to Moore was intentional.
“Yeah, that one slipped a little bit,” Halladay told Phillies reporters, smiling.
“It slipped,” he added later. “Really, I think, we do need to protect our guys to an extent. I’m not saying that’s what happened. It slipped. But that’s important. We’ve had a lot of guys hit over the years. As a staff, we need to do a good job of protecting those guys. Spring training, you’re not necessarily trying to do it. But it wouldn’t have been the worst thing had it got him after hitting one of our good guys.”
That last line, in particular, was so open-ended it seems indeed possible that Halladay was making the case for having thrown behind Moore on purpose.
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson insisted he didn’t think anything of the incident, saying it was “much ado about nothing.”
“I asked Moore, because I didn’t think anything (of it),” Johnson said. “Because I knew Strasburg didn’t hit nobody on purpose. I asked Moore if there’s a history there. He said, ‘There is now.’ I wouldn’t want Moore coming after me, I know that.”
But Johnson, in his typical way, added a joking jab about Halladay: “Maybe Hamels is coaching him.” (Cole Hamels famously admitting to hitting Bryce Harper with a pitch last season, only to spark the ire of General Manager Mike Rizzo.)
Moore tried his best to play down the incident. He’s a second-year player and likely doesn’t want to start anything. He said the right things following the game but his smile betrayed him.
“He missed a little inside,” said Moore, who insisted he was joking in what he told Johnson. “He’s a competitor man. I don’t know if he was protecting his team or what, but I know that he knows it’s spring training and he’s a professional and he’s done this for a long time and maybe it just slipped out of his hand.”
Strasburg insisted he unintentionally yanked a fastball at Utley. “I don’t have any reason to throw at him, do I?”
Asked why the Phillies would want to send a message to the Nationals, Strasburg was defiant.
“That’s up to them,” he said. “I mean, I don’t understand why they’d think I was throwing at them. Obviously you can tell the conditions weren’t great and I yanked it in there. It’s spring training. If you’re going to throw at somebody or give a message in spring training, go ahead.”
A winter of words waged between both teams, and on Wednesday this rivalry added another chapter.