Stephen Strasburg made his second start of the spring and allowed one run over three innings in the Nationals‘ 11-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Viera, Fla., on Sunday. He walked the first two batters of the game but used a double play to help escape the inning. An inning later, he induced another double play to erase a single. Manager Matt Williams has been limiting starters to three innings in their second starts, so Strasburg left after he fired 48 pitches.
Strasburg felt sharp warming up in the bullpen before the game, but lost the feeling to a degree on the mound to open the game. He felt like he was painting the strike zone, so he adjusted. He walked Peter Bourjos and Kolten Wong to open the game, and gave up an RBI single to Allen Craig. Strasburg left without further damage with a double play and groundout.
Strasburg threw more sliders on Sunday than his first start. He has been working on the pitch this spring and felt it clicking while warming up. In the game, he was overthrowing it so he slowed down. He is still working on it and his confidence in it. The pitch isn’t yet fully ready for a regular season game.
“When I’m in a jam, I’m going go to rely on the pitches that I’m confident in,” he said. “It’s a pitch that I’m working on. It’s the second game I’ve thrown it. It feels good. I like the results that I’m getting. It’s just something else the hitters are going to have to prepare for.”
Because he issued two walks to open the game, Strasburg got the chance to work on holding runners, another personal point of emphasis this spring. Bourjos is a base-stealing speedster, but Strasburg made a concerted effort to step off the rubber and keep an eye on him. Strasburg said it felt like second nature at first, but his mechanics altered slightly while pitching from the stretch. Again, he recognized his mistake and tried correcting it.
Strasburg flashed his athleticism in his final inning when Danny Espinosa ranged far to his left to stop a groundball and Strasburg, who recovered from a bad break to the bag, caught the ball in time at first base for the out.
“I like to show off some athleticism every now and then,” Strasburg said.
** Drew Storen made his second appearance of the spring and was more effective than the first. In his first outing, he was excited and overthrowing. On Sunday, he pitched the sixth inning and the only base runner that reached was Wong, who Storen hit with a pitch. Storen’s first batter was Pete Kozma, infamous in Washington, and Storen retired him with a groundout. Storen induced a flyout by Bourjos and popout from Casey Rasmus.
“Down in the zone,” Williams said of Storen. “Much better.”
** Christian Garcia, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, had his best outing of the spring with a scoreless eighth. He struck out all three batters he faced, two of them on fastballs. Garcia’s feel for his breaking ball seems to have improved, but Williams believed that his fastball made the difference.
“The fact that he can throw the ball low to mid-90s with sink is most important,” Williams said. “Then he can throw his breaking ball off of that. He spiked a little bit of them [Sunday], a bit of overthrowing them, but he got back with his fastball which is good. If he can command both sides of the plate, he’ll do really well.”
** The Nationals displayed their aggressive base running again on Sunday. Espinosa, who went 2 for 3, ran well, going first to third on a throwing error by third baseman Daniel Descalso. Ian Desmond, who went 1 for 2, stole his fourth base of the spring. In the third inning, Wilson Ramos scored from third on a chopper back to the mound by Scott Hairston. It was the best Ramos has looked running the bases in a while, perhaps better than even pre-injuries in 2013. Ramos finished 2 for 3 with three RBI.
“Good base running,” Williams said. “Aggressive base running, which is really good to see. Those little things add up. It’s good to see.”
** Anthony Rendon started at third base, hit leadoff and went 2 for 3 with home run in the first inning. Before the game, Williams said that on days Denard Span needs to rest he would consider Rendon, Desmond, Nate McLouth and Bryce Harper as potential options. More on this later.
** First baseman Tyler Moore, who came off the bench, had two hits. Catcher Koyie Hill, who came in as a designated hitter, drove in two runs, and has three RBI in eight at-bats this spring.