Spring Training is one of the most anticipated times in a baseball fan’s year, but by the end of it, everyone is excited for it to come to an end. Today was that day for the Washington Nationals as they closed up their spring with an exhibition game back home at Nats Park. The (healthy) regulars started the game and Doug Fister was on the mound as the team closed the spring season with a 4-2 loss to the Yankees.
Fister, who had struggled most of spring with an ERA north of 7.00, looked sharp in his final tune-up before his first regular season start, which is slated for April 11 against the Phillies.. Fister allowed just two runs on four hits and struck out three batters over the course of six innings pitched.
The lone two runs by the Yankees came in the fifth inning when Stephen Drew ripped a pitch into the Nationals bullpen for a two-run homer, his third home run of the spring.
Otherwise, Fister performed well. While he may not have induced as many ground balls as he normally does when in midseason form, his pitches looked sharp. He was working fast and pounding the strike zone in his first game back at Nats Park. Fister will start as the fifth man in the Nats rotation. Nats fans grew accustomed to starts like these from Fister last year and if he can continue to pitch this well, he will be the best fifth starter in the big leagues this year.
Nationals hitters also looked ready to get the season underway. For a second straight day, they got to the Yankees early with three runs in the first, this time off of Yankees starter, Nathan Eovaldi.
Michael Taylor led things off with a single into left field. On the very next pitch, Matt Williams put on a hit and run, which Yunel Escobar executed to perfection. Escobar bounced a single through the hole in the right side of the infield created by Taylor running on the pitch. Taylor was able to advance all the way to third. After a Bryce Harper walk (his MLB leading 14th of the spring), Ryan Zimmerman advanced everybody with a sac-fly to left, scoring Taylor.
Wilson Ramos followed with a single right back up the middle, driving home Escobar and Harper, to give the Nats an early 3-0 lead.
Eovaldi settled down after the first and kept the Nationals scoreless over his next four innings. The starters all got two to three at-bats before leaving around the fifth or sixth inning. The Nats were unable to get much else going on the day, but the early runs were enough to have fans excited and feeling good about the opening day lineup, despite the injuries
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The bullpen, which has been a question for the Nationals all spring performed well with the exception of Drew Storen. Felipe Rivero (0.2 innings pitched), Craig Stammen (0.1), Rich Hill (0.2) and Blake Treinen (1.0) all had scoreless outings.
Treinen looked especially sharp with two strikeouts in the ninth. His performance this spring took him from a roster hopeful to a most likely, impact pitcher in the back of the bullpen.
Drew Storen however struggled in his third of an inning. Granted he is still recovering from a blister on his toe which forced him to leave his last appearance early, but the Yankees hitters pounded him. Storen got only one out and gave up two hits, including what turned out to be the game-winning two-run homer to Chris Young, which gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
The Yankees bullpen kept the Nationals hitters at bay for the rest of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats threatened to tie things up against Dellin Betances, getting runners on first and second with just one out, but Betances retired the next two hitters (Matt den Dekker and Danny Espinosa) via strikeouts to close it out.
On Monday, everything gets started for real. Max Scherzer will square off against Bartolo Colon of the Mets at 4:05 PM ET at Nationals Park. You can catch the game either on ESPN or MASN. This will be Scherzer’s first start as a National, as well as his first start as an Opening Day starter.
The opening day lineup has not been announced yet. The two things to look out for when that lineup is announced are at the left field and second base positions. Tyler Moore is expected to start in left, but Nationals broadcaster F.P Santangelo suggested that newly acquired Matt den Dekker could be in the mix as well. As for second base, either Dan Uggla or Danny Espinosa is likely to start for the Nats.
Either way, Nats Park will be rocking at the first of 162 games and hopefully more gets underway.