PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Nationals capped spring training with a 12-1 thrashing of the Mets on Wednesday. Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Stephen Drew homered. Because Max Scherzer stayed in Viera to pitch in a simulated game, nine Nationals relievers appeared in the game and only the final one, Jonathan Papelbon, allowed a run. Even Ben Revere, not known for his arm strength, threw out Mets third baseman David Wright at home after tagging up on a shallow flyball to center field.
The Nationals, who have a day off Thursday before two final exhibition games this weekend, finished with the best record — 18-4-3 — in the Grapefruit League and posted a plus-81 run differential. But does their spring record matter? Is it a sign of what’s to come, beginning Monday?
“You hope it carries over,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “You really don’t know. But hey, man, confidence is an amazing thing, especially confidence as a unit.”
Spring training and September are the hardest time to evaluate players because they are often facing minor leaguers. Results in spring training don’t matter — until they do, like when a key player struggles.
“You spend all your time getting ready or you can tell yourself that you are ready,” Baker said. “And you really don’t have much choice now because we really only have a couple more exhibition games. I’m just hoping that when we go home, people come and see what we’re about. And also, hope the weather is pretty nice so we don’t have to be conscious and aware of injuries this late in the spring.”
Since 2010, only four teams have finished with the best records in their respective spring leagues and reached the playoffs the same year. The last times the Nationals reached the playoffs in ’12 and ’14, they had spring winning percentages of .414 and .536, respectively. Last season, the Mets and Royals finished with the best winning percentages in their leagues and went on to meet in the World Series, which is an anomaly. This year, the Nationals and Diamondbacks (Cactus League) finished atop the standings.
Perhaps the most important takeaway about the Nationals’ spring speaks to how they played. A handful of rival scouts who follow the Nationals noted on several occasions how well the team performed throughout its Grapefruit League schedule. Washington also played under new manager and his coaching staff. And just as important: no injuries to key players.
“I’m glad to get out of here very healthy — outside of maybe a couple guys,” Baker said. “The guys came to play. They came to play whether they were the starting team or guys in the minor leagues, or even No. 95 or whoever it was that came over to play. It’s a credit to them, the coaching staff and the organization. It shows how deep we are.”
Part of what pleased Baker in camp was how Zimmerman and Werth hit near the final stages of the spring. The Nationals were cautious with Zimmerman, easing him and his chronic plantar fasciitis slowly into game action. He wound up hitting .324 while Werth posted a .286 average. Baker kept saying that older take longer to get into a groove but can ride it longer.
“I wanted them to hit later in camp versus earlier,” Baker said. “There’s always a down period. I used to see Barry Bonds, he’d get ready so quick then there was a big lull in the action and then sit him down and get him going again. If they’re hitting too good too soon they get bored. Know what I mean?”
>>> The Nationals released and re-signed Bronson Arroyo and Burke Badenhop to minor league deals. The moves were likely to avoid any opt-outs in their previous contracts and to allow them to stay in the organization to rehab (in Arroyo’s case) or work on pitching improvements (Badenhop).
>>> The final spots on the bench and bullpen will come down to the wire. Baker has been around the players only six weeks so he’s working off the organization’s opinion, what he has heard and what he has seen in this smaller sample size.
Sean Burnett (his ninth scoreless spring outing logged Wednesday), Blake Treinen (two-thirds of a scoreless inning) and Trevor Gott (two scoreless) are competing for a final relief spot — unless the Nationals go with an eight-man bullpen to start the season. Chris Heisey (0 for 1 on Wednesday), Matt den Dekker (1 for 2 with a walk), Brendan Ryan and Reed Johnson (2 for 2) are competing for the final bench spot. Ryan, the lone infielder of that bunch, didn’t play Wednesday.