Mar 1, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Matt Williams leaned back in the chair in his office at Space Coast Stadium, having just witnessed a 3-hour, 59-minute slop fest of a ballgame that included 31 combined runs, 37 hits, six errors, two wild pitches, way too many pitching changes and way too many unsightly moments to commit to memory.
“I didn’t even play, and I’m tired,” the rookie manager said.
The good news, as it were: The Nationals actually beat the Braves, 16-15, rallying from eight runs down in the fifth.
But the result didn’t much make up for the manner in which this game was played, especially the defensive miscues that irked Williams, who could only hope this was a one-time occurrence.
“I think it’s an aberration,” he said. “It’s one of those days. We’ll address it. But you can’t explain it. [Right fielder Michael Taylor] slips and wheels and throws and no one’s there. It happens. I think it’s an aberration, though.”
How does Williams plan to address it?
“Well, tomorrow we’re having situational defense practice,” he said. “So I assume we’ll address it tomorrow.”
Don’t get too worked up, though. That drill was previously planned, not a reaction to this performance.
Some other observations from a wild spring training game…
— Bryce Harper’s surgically repaired knee looked perfectly healthy in its first game test. Batting third and playing left field, Harper stepped to the plate three times and drew a pair of walks. The only out he made was a scorched line drive right at Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. And he put the knee to good work on the back end of a double steal. The Nats actually stole three bases in the third inning alone, with Denard Span swiping second and then third on the front end of that double-steal with Harper. Welcome to the Matt Williams Era.
— Though Jordan Zimmermann was highly efficient in his two-inning start, the next few pitchers who took the mound for the Nationals were decidedly not. Matt Purke labored through 1 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks and getting the always-dreaded, mid-inning hook in a spring training game. Blake Treinin, touted by club officials the last two weeks as a camp sleeper, was tagged for six runs (four earned) and six hits in only one inning (the same inning that featured many of the defensive miscues). And Josh Roenicke, trying to put himself in the mix for the final spot in the bullpen, gave up four runs of his own on six hits in only two-thirds of an inning.
— At the other end of the spectrum, Luis Ayala made a strong first impression for winning that final bullpen spot. The veteran right-hander was summoned to clean up an eighth-inning mess created by Clay Hensley (one out, bases loaded, Nats clinging to a 1-run lead) and executed flawlessly by inducing a double-play grounder to escape the jam. Ayala came back to pitch the ninth and stranded the tying runner on third to earn the save. It’s only March 1, and there’s so much left to be determined, but Ayala couldn’t have opened his spring any better than that. “He’s a guy that can have really quick innings,” Williams said. “An aggressive opposition. Ball sinking in. A lot of groundballs. That’s why we’re considering him, and that’s why he’s here. It was a perfect situation for him today.”
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