Compiling evaluations on Spring Training is difficult to do when you consider that results mean very little while observing the process is more important. Much of what was seen was positive this spring. The starters are ready and reportedly healthy beyond the players we know about like Daniel Murphy, Joaquin Benoit, Koda Glover, and Joe Ross. The good news is that Adam Eaton is back after his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgery, and Daniel Murphy is inching closer to returning from his microfracture and debridement procedures in his right knee.
We have all smiled about the relaxed camp run by new manager Dave Martinez who has had coaches riding camels, players doubling as disc jockeys, players competing in a golf chipping contest, and players doing their best faux walk-off celebrations. But the strangest part of camp is that a reportedly healthy face-of-the-franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, never appeared in the field for the Nationals and accumulated just two at-bats as the designated hitter in one game. When the real season starts on Thursday, Davey Martinez assured the media that Zimmerman would be in the line-up.
What is perplexing is that two games in a row, Trea Turner has been batting 6th in the batting order. This is a player built to lead-off based on what he can do to opposing pitchers and their defense with his speed. Fine, bat Trea second behind a very capable Adam Eaton which seemed to be the plan, but batting him down in the order behind slow runners just wastes his god-given speed. Maybe this was just an experiment that will be poured down the drain of the lab sink, and nothing to waste a second thinking about again. One great lesson we learned from Jamey Carroll a year ago after the Adam Eaton acquisition was how he felt the Eaton-to-Turner combination would wreak havoc like the Marlins last World Series team did at the top of the order with Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo once did against his team.
“One of the most stressful times that I used to be on the field was playing 3rd base [for the Expos] and the Marlins had Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre were 1-2 [during their World Series season in 2003] and one of them was on first base and steal 2nd, I didn’t know if the next guy was going bunt, fake bunt, steal 3rd, as it used to cause me a lot of stress,” Jamey Carroll recalled. “I can see that working with [the Nationals] Adam Eaton and Trea Turner at the top of the line-up. That’s how you play the game of baseball.”
On process, there was an emphasis in camp on putting the ball in play with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs. The Nationals were fine last year with a robust .376 batting average while putting the ball in play 76.4% of the time which means they struck-out 61 of 258 at-bats. Compare that to the Astros who put the ball in play at a 78.5% clip while striking out 55 times of 256 at-bats. The Nationals were at 76.1% in 2014 under Matt Williams in those situations and adding a player like Daniel Murphy certainly helps the numbers. This is an area where Michael Taylor must improve. He was by far the worst Nats player last year in that situation, and today struck-out in that same situation. We also saw Matt Reynolds in the previous game in the same situation and his at-bat ended in a strikeout. We saw too many strike outs in Spring Training in that situation, and that has led to many low scoring games for the Nationals. Situational hitting has to be an emphasis by Kevin Long and Joe Dillon who are the hitting coaches. Taylor is now a veteran baseball player and must personally improve as his 44.4% K rate won’t cut it nor will his .176 batting average he had last year in those spots.
Spring training records don’t matter for much. The Nationals finished with a 13-17-2 record which means they won 13 games, lost 17 games, and tied 2 games. The real season starts on Thursday, and hopefully this team wakes up and scores a lot of runs for their pitchers because the Nationals were dead last this spring in runs scored with only 126 which equals only 3.94 per game which is poor for spring training. Eleven teams scored 170 or more runs this spring.
We are less than two days to Opening Day. See you on Thursday!