Nationals Improve to 3-0 as Stephen Strasburg Makes Spring Debut

brandonconner
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Both the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals entered Saturday afternoon’s exhibition with 2-0 records. The Nats had put together back-to-back one-run come-from-behind victories on Thursday and Friday, while the Cardinals had managed a pair of three-run victories over the Marlins (4-1) and the Astros (5-2). Though it was only the third game of the spring schedule, one couldn’t help but feel that this game could be a matchup of teams that could be fighting each other come October.

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Of course, the excitement of that sort of matchup is still months away. But that didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of things to look forward to in Saturday’s game. For one, Stephen Strasburg would be making his spring debut. There was also the opportunity to see Danny Espinosa and his legendary mustache, as well as find out whether Dan Uggla could continue his hot start to the spring.

In the first inning, Strasburg looked dominant on the mound, recording three quick outs, but he got into trouble in the second. A walk to the leadoff hitter, Randal Grichuk, followed by two singles to Scott Moore and Xavier Scruggs, gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. After another walk, a misplay on a ball to the right side of the infield allowed another run to score. Strasburg would leave soon after. His day would end after 1.2 innings, having given up two runs, both earned.

The Nationals would manage to get one run back in the bottom of the second when Dan Uggla, who was on third after a walk and a Tony Gwynn, Jr. single, came in on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Kobernus. At the end of two, the Cardinals led 2-1.

A.J. Cole, who came on in relief of Strasburg, did not have much luck on the day. He struggled with his command, leaving pitches up in the zone. Grichuk took one of those pitches out for a solo home run in the top of the third. In the fourth, the defense behind Cole let him down. Danny Espinosa failed to make a catch on a decent throw by Ryan Zimmerman, who showed good range moving to his right on the play. The run, which would be unearned, would score on Pete Kozma’s sacrifice fly to stretch the Nats deficit to 4-1.

Things would remain that way until the bottom of the sixth, when the Nationals put together a rally. Wilson Ramos, Michael Taylor, and Rafael Bautista each singled to load the bases. Then, after a strikeout by Derrick Robinson, Matt Skole hammered a base hit into center to score two. Wilmer Difo followed it with another hit to right to plate two more, and the Nationals turned a three-run deficit into a one-run lead.

In the following inning, the Nats would add to their advantage. Michael Taylor outhustled a potential double play ball. He would score when Cutter Dykstra’s hit got past the right fielder and to the wall to push the lead to 6-4.

The Nats lead would stay locked at two runs until the Cardinals threatened in the top of the ninth. They strung together a few two-out hits to score one run and they managed to get the tying run to third before Scott McGregor finally shut down the inning to run the Nationals’ spring record to 3-0. It was the Nats third straight comeback win by a single run, which means Nats fans may not have any fingernails left by the time the regular season has reached mid-May.

Tomorrow, the Nationals will face off against the Yankees (1:05 PM ET, MLB.TV) as Doug Fister will make his first start of spring training.

Notes:

  • Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman both looked good at the plate hitting in the three and four spots. They combined to go three-for-five with a walk, though the Nationals could not find a way to capitalize on their success.
  •  Zimmerman continues to show progress at first, but there have been a few hiccups as well. The good thing is that he’s showing a lot of range. It will take some time for Zimmerman to completely grasp all of the intricacies of the position, but I expect him to be comfortable there by the start of the season.
  • Serving as a DH, Dan Uggla continued to get on base. He went 0-for-1 with a walk and scored a run.
  • Jerry Blevins, Casey Janssen, Felipe Rivero, and Bruce Billings combined for four scoreless innings. Between the four of them, they allowed one hit with four strikeouts and no walks. It was a solid outing from some of the guys the Nats will be relying on to eat up those bullpen innings that the team lost in the offseason.
  • It was also a good day for some of the Nats young prospects at the plate. Cutter Dykstra, Matt Skole, and Wilmer Difo all produced big hits, a good sign for the Nationals depth, as well as their potential for the long-term future.

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