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Ben Revere tweaked his swing this off-season, and is feeling the payoff

Nationals center fielder Ben Revere is congratulated as he comes to the dugout in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

LAKELAND, Fla. — In the top of the first inning of Wednesday’s 11-5 loss to the Tigers, against Justin Verlander, Nationals center fielder Ben Revere hit a high fly ball to right field and it seemed unremarkable. But that ball stood out to Revere, who couldn’t remember hitting a ball so high before. High fly balls like that often indicate a near-miss by a powerful swing. Revere isn’t known to have a particularly powerful swing.

“I had a good swing on it, I just popped it straight up up. Even as I got to first, [Miguel] Cabrera, even [Mike Aviles], they were like ‘you just missed that one,'” Revere said. “…I’ve never hit a pop fly that high. But it’s a good feeling that other players can see that.”

Revere got his first taste of playoff baseball with the Blue Jays in October, a fairly successful stint in which he hit .255 and scored seven runs. Afterward, Revere studied his swing, and noticed his hands had drifted further away from his body than he would have preferred. This off-season, he worked on keeping them closer to his body, where he can stay inside pitches all over the plate, drive outside pitches the opposite way instead of rolling over them, and pull inside pitches more effectively.

“The ball coming off the bat sounds a lot louder, like the big boys,” Revere said. “I’m trying to get to that point. Even some of the hitting coaches, I told them about it, and they can see the difference. Since I’ve been playing against you guys so much, the Nationals, they can kind of see a difference in my swing, how fluid it is the last few games.”

After that towering pop-out, Revere doubled and singled before leaving the game. He is now hitting .500 this spring with a double and a home run. He has hit four home runs in his six-season major league career.

“Of course the coaches don’t want me to do [try to hit homers]. I don’t want to do it either,” Revere said. “My game is to hit line drives, hit ground balls and get on base. If I do hit home runs, hey, it’s like you found a four-leaf clover somewhere.”

Dusty Baker said he can’t see a difference in Revere yet, as he hadn’t seen him play much over the last two years. He doesn’t necessarily want to see a difference from the pesky leadoff man he thought he was getting.

“We don’t need Ben to be more powerful. We need Ben to get on base,” Baker said. “Occasional power, we’ll take it, but I don’t want Ben thinking too much power because that’s what the opposition wants: Ben up in the air. We’ll see.”

Revere’s two hits represented two of the few positives for the Nationals in what was their first real slip-up of the spring. They had been charging through spring training, cruising through the Grapefruit League schedule with good pitching, strong defense and timely hitting — most of which came from young players and roster hopefuls, as the regulars eased into action.

But Wednesday, when Baker brought most of his regulars to Lakeland to face the Tigers, they stumbled. Gio Gonzalez walked four batters and couldn’t finish the three innings for which he was scheduled, lasting only 2 2/3. Normally steady Danny Espinosa made two errors, and Anthony Rendon added another. The Nationals trailed 7-0 by the fifth inning.

“We gave away a lot of outs,” Baker said. “You’re asking for trouble, and that’s what we got.”

Baker said he brought his regulars on a longer road trip than they usually make because the Nationals schedule sets up to push them over the next few days. The Nationals are scheduled for a night game tomorrow, which makes Wednesday and Thursday ideal days for their first back-to-back games of spring, because they have more turnaround time than they would with a day game. He plans to play them for a few innings Friday, too, because playing even a few innings in a day game after a night game will test their stamina.

Wednesday, Revere, Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth faced Verlander first. Only Revere and Murphy, who hit a two-run double, managed hits — a lack of success not at all unexpected in their third spring training game, against a perennial ace like Verlander.

Gonzalez said he is implementing tweaks to his delivery suggested by new Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux, but that he never really synced them Wednesday. He felt like he rushed, like his head drifted at times, like his arm was not high enough at others,  so he fell behind hitter after hitter.

“Like Mike was saying, the less they see of you the better, and going out and showing them 60 pitches in three innings, 2 2/3, that’s not good,” Gonzalez said. “I should have had our guys back in the dugout…”

Nick Masset and Sammy Solis struggled in relief, as each allowed a three-run homer. Tyler Moore, who had one hit in 14 at-bats entering Wednesday, homered. Bronson Arroyo will start for the Nationals Thursday night.

>>>>> Scott Sizemore hit his third homer of what has so far been a remarkable spring. He is hitting .545 with 17 total bases in seven games this spring.

>>>>> Lucas Giolito was originally scheduled to pitch the eighth and ninth innings, or around 35 pitches. Other starters had bumped up to three innings, but the Nationals still watch Giolito’s innings carefully to ensure they do not accumulate too quickly. Because the Tigers led into the ninth, Giolito only got the eighth. After a spotless first outing, he allowed a solo home run to Tyler Collins, allowed a double, then struck out the side.