Mar 25, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
VIERA, Fla. — We’ve reached the home stretch at last, and that means a couple of things: 1) Guys are absolutely itching to get out of here and get this thing started, and 2) Exhibition games start bearing more resemblance to regular-season games.
That’s the case today, with Stephen Strasburg and nearly every member of the Nationals’ starting lineup facing Zack Wheeler and the Mets’ regulars. It’s not exactly ideal for Strasburg (who is scheduled to pitch at least five innings) to be going up against the same team he’ll face in only six days at Citi Field, but as manager Matt Williams said: “The schedule’s the schedule, and we can’t do anything about that.”
It’ll be Dillon Gee, not Wheeler, for the Mets on Opening Day. But regardless of the name of the man on the mound, manager Terry Collins is planning to hit his pitcher eighth most of the time to begin the season. The thought process: Try to create more RBI situations for No. 3 hitter David Wright by having three position players bat in front of him, while still having Wright bat in the first inning. A few managers have tried this over the years, including Jim Riggleman for a stretch in 2011. Whether it actually works remains up for debate.
The game’s on TV today, but be sure to check back here for plenty of updates, analysis and conversation…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. NEW YORK METS
Where: Space Coast Stadium, Viera
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
Weather: Cloudy, 70 degrees, Wind 17 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Bryce Harper
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam LaRoche
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Stephen Strasburg
2B Eric Young Jr.
CF Juan Lagares
3B David Wright
RF Curtis Granderson
LF Chris Young
1B Ike Davis
C Travis d’Arnaud
RHP Zack Wheeler
SS Ruben Tejada
1:08 p.m. — And we’re underway on a cloudy afternoon in Viera. Stephen Strasburg starts off Eric Young with a fastball inside for ball one.
1:13 p.m. — Strasburg put himself in a rare early jam when he walked Young to open the game, but he quickly took care of that on his own, snagging Juan Lagares’ comebacker and starting a 1-6-3 double play. David Wright then lined a ball right at Denard Span to end the top of the first.
1:23 p.m. — A couple of baserunners in the bottom of the first for the Nats, with Span blooping a single to center and Jayson Werth drawing a walk. But three flyouts by Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper kept Span from advancing beyond third base, so the Nats fail to score in the inning. 0-0 as Strasburg takes the mound for the second.
1:30 p.m. — A 1-2-3 top of the second for Strasburg, with an interesting twist to close out the inning. With Ike Davis at the plate, the Nats employed another one of these shifts where Zimmerman actually positions himself as though he was the second baseman. Davis bounced a ball to the right side and Zim wound up fielding it about 45 feet from first base. Pretty easy throw from there for him to record a highly unconventional 5-3 groundout.
1:55 p.m. — And Travis d’Arnaud takes Stephen Strasburg deep to left to open the top of the third. In Strasburg’s defense, there’s a stiff wind blowing out to left field today. But it should be noted that Strasburg hung his 2-2 breaking ball and put it on a platter for d’Arnaud. Of more concern: Strasburg walked No. 9 hitter Ruben Tejada, then served up an RBI double down the right-field line to Young, with Tejada just sliding in before Lobaton’s tag. From the press box (and apparently from the stands as well) it looked like Lobaton might have gotten him. Fans were calling for Matt Williams to challenge the play (today is a replay game). But Williams stayed in the dugout. Presumably, he got word from the Nats’ video guys that Tejada was safe all along. Meanwhile, the Mets added a third run on Wright’s two-out single to open up a 3-0 lead. I’ll be curious to hear if Strasburg says he was holding back at all, or changed his approach at all today knowing he’ll be facing this same Mets lineup in six days at Citi Field.
2:13 p.m. — And the Nats come right back and get the three runs back. Plus two more. Yep, five straight batters reached against Wheeler in the bottom of the third, with two big highlights: 1) With the bases loaded, Ryan Zimmerman poked a 2-2 pitch through the left-side hole to bring two runs home, and 2) Bryce Harper absolutely crushed a 3-run homer. Opposite field. Off the flagpole in left center. Way up the pole. Yes, the wind helped some, but still, that was a bomb. It’s 5-3 Nats as Wheeler is yanked after only 2 2/3 innings.
2:25 p.m. — It’s spring training, so of course you can’t view these things quite the way you do when it really counts. But I thought it was notable that Strasburg, after given that 5-3 lead, went out and set down the Mets in order in the top of the fourth on a pair of strikeouts and a groundball. Nice shutdown inning there.
2:45 p.m. — That may do it for Strasburg, who retired seven straight after his shaky third inning. If he’s done, his line will be: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Still 5-3 Nats in the middle of the fifth.
2:55 p.m. — Well, I spoke too soon, because Strasburg hit for himself in the bottom of the fifth and took the mound again for the top of the sixth. Meanwhile, a Desmond single, stolen base and a Lobaton RBI single extended the Nats’ lead to 6-3.
3:08 p.m. — Now Strasburg is done for the day. And for the spring. He threw 5 2/3 innings today, allowing three runs on five hits, walking two and striking out seven. His total spring pitching line: 19.2 IP, 13 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 17 K. That’s a 1.83 ERA. The most important stat from today, though: Strasburg threw 84 pitches, which means he should be good for up to 100 on Opening Day at Citi Field.
3:15 p.m. — Solid day at the plate for Denard Span. He has three singles and drew a walk (his first of the spring, by the way).
3:32 p.m. — Nice relief outing for Jerry Blevins, who retired all four batters he faced, striking out two. Still 6-3 Nats as we hit the seventh-inning stretch.
3:57 p.m. — Hey, Matt Williams just won another replay challenge. Denard Span thought he caught a sinking liner to center in the top of the eighth. The ump thought otherwise. Williams challenged, and the call was overturned. So that’s his second successful challenge in three days.
4:07 p.m. — Nats win, 7-3.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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