Taylor Jordan’s rough start, Michael Gonzalez’s debut — and other notes


Taylor Jordan. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Until Friday’s 12-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Taylor Jordan had looked sharp this spring. In his first few starts this spring, he was nervous about competing for the final spot in the Nationals’ starting rotation. He was also concerned about how his surgically-repaired ankle would respond. But his fears were alleviated and he pitched well.

Against the Tigers, however, Taylor’s command was shaky. His secondary pitches were hit. He didn’t feel he was getting the expected strike calls low in the zone. He adjusted, as a result, and his elevated breaking balls were knocked around. After he allowed four runs on seven hits over three innings, the right-hander was unhappy.

“I wasn’t very pleased with it,” he said. “I wasn’t locating pitches very well … I don’t feel like I had command [Friday] with any pitch.”

Even though Jordan pitched a strong first inning, including a three-pitch strikeout of Miguel Cabrera, the right-hander felt his command was off. (Jordan got Cabrera out twice.) His control worsened in the third inning when he allowed all of his runs.

“A lot of the pitches I was just babying,” he said. “The slider and the change-up, I was just babying them. Just trying to guide it almost to where I wanted it. And then I missed that double play ball.”

Manager Matt Williams said coaches have encouraged Jordan to throw more fastballs that sink and induced groundballs, and use his breaking balls less. He also hoped that Jordan wouldn’t worry about his standing in the fifth starter’s competition after a bad outing.

“We’re just going to continue to encourage him to use his stuff and be the best pitcher he can be,” Williams said. “Competing for a spot, that’s good. That’s the way it should be. I don’t think he should be nervous about anything he does out there. If he’s aggressive, he’ll be fine.”

>>> Left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez, who was signed to a minor league deal last week, made his Grapefruit League debut this season in the eighth inning. He faced five batters, two of them left-handers, and allowed two runs on two hits. The two hits surrendered were to the left-handers on flat breaking balls.

“To be expected,” he said. “I hadn’t really snapped them off. And the good thing is that I got to finish off with a really good breaking pitch to a righty. Got it in the dirty where I wanted it. The other two I left up because I wanted to put a little bit more on them. That’s what comes last.”

Overall, Gonzalez said he was pleased with his outing. The scoreboard reading noted Gonzalez’s fastball as high as 92 miles per hour, but that was perhaps a few ticks too high, according to one official.

“I felt good, man,” Gonzalez said. “Good to get back in there and back in the rhythm of things. I felt my rhythm was good. The aggressiveness was good. I’m excited about the outing. You don’t want to give up runs but overall the way the shoulder feels. The way the arm feels all together. I feel like I’m back at it.”

>>> Right-handed reliever Luis Ayala, who is competing for a spot in the bullpen, allowed five runs on six hits and notched only two outs in the fourth inning. All but one of the hits was a single. Williams dismissed the notion that Ayala struggled, saying that the veteran reliever was inducing groundballs that just couldn’t be converted into outs. “He did what he was supposed to do but some groundballs got through,” Williams said.

Williams didn’t pull Ayala earlier because he said he had confidence in the right-hander to finish the inning. But Ayala’s final at-bat was an 11-pitch battle with Nick Castellanos.

>>> Drew Storen escaped a bases loaded jam in the fifth inning with a flyout. He gave up  back-to-back singles to Torii Hunter and Cabrera. Former National Steve Lombardozzi pinch ran for Cabrera, and he and Hunter executed a double steal. Storen walked Alex Avila to load the bases with two outs. Williams said the right-handed reliever was throwing an unusually high number of breaking balls and change-ups, but that was a conscious effort to work on them. But it also got Storen in a jam that he eventually wiggled out of.

>>> Tyler Moore got off to a slow start this spring but Williams said he saw signs of him snapping out. Moore went 2 for 2, crushing a two-run home run off Rick Porcello in the fourth inning for his first home run of the spring. Scott Hairston, who has struggled against right-handers in his career, hit his first home run of the spring against right-hander Al Aburquerque in the sixth inning.

>>> In the sixth inning, both shortstop Zach Walters and catcher Sandy Leon flashed their strong arms. Walters made a nifty throw from deep in the hole to nab a runner and Leon threw a runner out at third base.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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Adam Kilgore · March 14, 2014

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