Mar 1, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — It’s another beautiful day for baseball, and Space Coast Stadium is ready to host its first game of the spring. (I’m sure all of you suffering through the cold back in D.C. really enjoy reading that right now.)
The Nationals face the Braves today for the first of at least 24 times this year, counting spring training and the regular season. This one won’t feature quite the same intensity as the matchups a month from now will boast, but there’s certainly no love lost between these teams. And Julio Teheran does happen to be on the mound this afternoon, with Bryce Harper in the Nationals’ lineup. Fortunately, Brian McCann is in Tampa these days, so Harper shouldn’t have to worry too much about offending baseball’s morale police.
Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball for his spring debut. Like Taylor Jordan yesterday, he’s slated for two innings of work, depending on his pitch count. Matt Williams revealed a few more rotation plans for the next several days. After Zimmermann today, it’ll be Doug Fister tomorrow against the Marlins, Ross Detwiler on Monday against the Yankees and Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday against the Braves. Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d suggest that sure looks like the Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 1 starters in the Opening Day rotation.
No TV of today’s game, and the only radio coverage is on the Braves’ network. Never fear, though, because I’ll have plenty of updates and analysis right here…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EST
Radio: XM 183 (Braves radio network)
Weather: Sunny, 75 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to RF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
LF Bryce Harper
1B Tyler Moore
SS Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
3B Zach Walters
RF Steven Souza Jr.
DH Brock Peterson
(RHP Jordan Zimmermann)
CF Jordan Schafer
SS Andrelton Simmons
1B Freddie Freeman
C Ryan Doumit
3B Chris Johnson
2B Dan Uggla
DH Tommy La Stella
RF Matt Lipka
LF Jose Constanza
(RHP Julio Teheran)
1:07 p.m. — And we’re underway on a gorgeous, 78-degree afternoon as Jordan Schafer sends Jordan Zimmermann’s first pitch of the day to the hole at short and then barely beats Danny Espinosa’s throw to first for a leadoff single.
1:12 p.m. — Well, I wrote earlier today what Espinosa said about playing so much shortstop this spring, and wouldn’t you know he had three straight balls hit to him in the top of the first. He couldn’t quite get Schafer on that grounder to the hole, but then he went up the middle for a 6-3 double play on Andrelton Simmons and then made a nifty, sliding stop of Freddie Freeman’s grounder to his left and popped up to make a nice throw to first, with Tyler Moore completing things with a strong scoop. Scoreless first for Zimmermann.
1:20 p.m. — A 1-2-3 bottom of the first for Julio Teheran, who broke Denard Span’s bat and struck out Anthony Rendon looking at a pitch on the outside corner. Bryce Harper, in his first AB of the spring, did smoke a curveball from Teheran … but directly at Freeman for an unfortunate L3. Harper can’t be too upset about that, though. He was all over that pitch. Onto the second…
1:24 p.m. — A quick top of the second for Zimmermann, who retired the side on a pair of groundballs and then a strikeout of Dan Uggla. Jordan got the husky second baseman to swing at a high fastball for his first K of the spring. That should probably be it for Zimmermann. If so, a very nice start to his spring: 2 scoreless innings, 1 infield hit surrendered, five groundball outs, 15 of 20 pitches for strikes. Matt Purke should be up next out of the bullpen.
1:36 p.m. — Some nice displays of hitting in the bottom of the second. Jose Lobaton did well to take an outside pitch from Teheran the other way for a single. Zach Walters then sat back on a curveball and poked a single to right-center. Nicely done by both. So we move to the third, and here’s Matt Purke to pitch a scoreless game.
1:50 p.m. — Rough debut for Purke. The lefty was hit hard in the top of the third, serving up a double to deep center, a well-struck RBI single past a drawn-in infield and another RBI double to deep right by Freeman. Throw in a walk and Purke was really laboring out there. This is an important season for him. After battling injuries, he needs to re-establish himself or risk getting lapped by some of the Nationals’ other pitching prospects. 2-0 Braves as we move to the bottom of the third.
2:08 p.m. — Hmm, if you lost track just now, that would be THREE stolen bases from the Nats in the bottom of the third, including a Span-Harper double steal. Also, they scored two runs on two sac flies (by Rendon and Moore). Welcome to the Matt Williams Era, folks. It’s 2-2 now as Purke takes the mound for the fourth.
2:19 p.m. — It’s not usually a good thing when the manager has to make a mid-inning pitching change on March 1. Unfortunately, Williams just couldn’t go any farther with Purke, who got yanked with one out in the top of the fourth. His final line: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP. Not pretty. Enter Blake Treinin, who has got a slingshot of a right arm. Interested to see him pitch for the first time.
2:50 p.m. — Just got back from talking to Jordan Zimmermann in the clubhouse — he was, not surprisingly, pleased with the way he pitched today — to find the Nats rallied for four runs in the bottom of the fourth. The big hit: a 2-run single up the middle by Tyler Moore. So it’s 6-5 Nats as we move to the fifth inning and this game is nearly two hours old.
3:20 p.m. — Uh-oh, a goat rodeo just broke out here in the top of the fifth. The Braves scored five runs off Treinin, though they weren’t all his fault. Matt Lipka blooped a single down the right-field line and wound up circling the bases after Michael Taylor booted the ball, then threw it away. Will Rhymes’ throw the plate was wide, too, completing the disastrous play from the Nationals’ perspective. Defense across the board has turned really ugly here. Taylor dropped another fly ball well to his right. Scouts rate him a perfect 80 in center field, but he’s playing right field today at a rating of approximately minus-27. Not good. It’s 14-6 Braves, still the fifth inning.
3:43 p.m. — And … here come the Nats! They stormed back to score five runs in the bottom of the fifth, trimming the lead to 14-11. The PA announcer just read a promo for “The Deal Chicken.” Spring training baseball, folks.
4:17 p.m. — Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to Wirfin Obispo! He’s a hard-throwing Braves reliever who was handed a 15-11 lead for the bottom of the sixth … and proceeded to walk four batters before Fredi Gonzalez decided he’d seen enough Wirfin Obispo for the day. Too late. The Nats stormed all the way back, with Mike Fontenot clearing the bases with a double and later scoring the go-ahead run. Yes, the Nats now lead 16-15. And we’re only going to the top of the seventh!
4:31 p.m. — Clay Hensley tosses the first scoreless half-inning of this game since the bottom of the seventh. Standing ovation from the crowd. Seriously.
4:50 p.m. — If a couple of pitches in the eighth inning on March 1 matter, Luis Ayala just made the Opening Day roster. The veteran reliever inherited a one-out, bases-loaded mess and proceeded to get out of the jam with a 5-3 double play grounder. Nicely done. It’s still 16-15 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
5:06 p.m. — That’ll do it. Nats win 16-15, storming back from 8 runs down to win a 3-hour, 59-minute thriller. I’ll tell you what: If they go on to top the Braves in the NL East this season, surely we’ll look back on this day as a turning point. Or not.
NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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