Spring Training Game #6 Nats on Jupiter

The Washington Nationals top prospects continue to impress with Robert Hassell III taking the lead in batting average and OPS at .556 and 1.767 respectively plus he has two stolen bases and got dinged on his OPS for that Sac Fly the other day. Nipping on his heels is James Wood at .455 and 1.751. Wood turned an 0-2 game yesterday into a 1-2 when he legged out an infield single on pure hustle. The sample sizes are still miniscule — but fun to watch these youngsters. Brady House and Dylan Crews have good OPS numbers themselves at 1.125 and .830. There are others too, that are not getting the pub of that quartet.

We say it all the time with starting pitchers that it is all about continual improvement. One thing we learned from Max Scherzer‘s seven offseasons with the Washington Nationals was that he was never satisfied. Even after winning two Cy Young awards with the Nats, Scherzer would go into the offseason and try to tweak something to get better. Fellow Missourian and starting pitcher, Jackson Rutledge, has that same attitude at the beginning of his career and is trying to add a cutter to his mix. He was looking for another pitch that would be effective against left-handed hitters especially.

“It’s the second game throwing the cutter in my life. So we’ve got to figure out how that’s going to play and just keep throwing it.”

— Rutledge on adding a cutter to his repertoire

While Rutledge was pitching on 3-days rest yesterday, he didn’t look particularly sharp in this 2.0 innings of work while giving up 4 hits and 2 runs with 3 strikeouts. The issue was the walks in which he gave up three of them. Maybe part of that was that he was working on the cutter. That is what Spring Training is about for many players where you have to look at the stats — and remember that it is the process that is the key here.

One of the most impressive moments of the game was Wood sprinting down to first base to leg out a single on what should have been a routine out. On the other side of the ledger and the most unimpressive play, Mark Kolozsvary hit a routine hard ground ball to third baseman Carter Kieboom that he squared up and attempted to field in the middle of his body — and the ball clanked off of his glove. There was no crazy bounce, just an obvious error, right? Nick Sogard scored and pitcher DJ Herz was charged with an earned run as Kieboom avoided an error on that play. Who was the official scorer? What was that person watching? This is ridiculous. Later, Kieboom had a throwing error in the 9th inning that fortunately did not collar Joe La Sorsa with a blown save as he was pitching with a 1-run lead. There were no outs at the time, and La Sorsa showed no panic in setting down the next three batters, and earning the save.

Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan pitched the middle innings, and they were playing a game of “what you can do, I can do better.” Harvey K’d two batters so Finnegan K’d the side. That had their manager, Dave Martinez, smiling. Combine that with Richard Bleier‘s performance from the day before, and the competition is on. We have not seen Tanner Rainey in a game at this point, and former Red Sox closer, Matt Barnes, became the 20th player on the NRI list. We should see him and Derek Law on the mound soon. With the Mason Thompson UCL injury, and the pitching issues with Joan Adon, the bullpen is the spot where two NRIs have a very good shot of joining the Opening Day roster — and maybe more since Dylan Floro has been dealing with some arm pain. The locks looked like Harvey, Finnegan, Rainey, Jordan Weems, Floro, and Robert Garcia. That would be six with Floro in question. Then you have Jose Ferrer as a 40-man option.

By the way, the Nats are cornering the Barnes’ market with Matt and Jacob Barnes as NRIs in camp. All they need is to add Austin Barnes, and the Nats could truly be Barnstormers. None of the Barnes are related, although Austin’s uncle is Mike Gallego. But expect to be confused when you see Barnes on the mound, and go by their jersey numbers: Jacob No. 59 and Matt No. 41. Also, Bleier and Matt Barnes are tied in baseball history for being traded for the other between the Red Sox and Marlins prior to last season. Barnes had a 5.48 ERA for the Marlins in 24 relief appearances last year before having season-ending surgery for a hip impingement in July.

“First and foremost, [I want to prove] that I’m healthy and feeling good. I feel like I’ve got things to still offer this game and offer this organization and team, and that I’m back to being who I was.”

“The last couple of years were, I think, maybe uncharacteristic of what I was in the years prior to that, from not only the kind of competitive standpoint on the mound — but also a health standpoint. I pride myself on being healthy and kind of being a guy that can be relied upon in a bullpen. So it’s really just getting back to that and kind of back to who I was.”

— Matt Barnes said about his health status

The other storyline is whether general manager Mike Rizzo would consider Zach Davies for the fifth spot in the starting rotation to push Trevor Williams to the hybrid relief role in the bullpen. If that happened, there might only be one spot for all of the relievers to compete for if Floro is good to go.

Today’s game will feature Patrick Corbin on the mound for his second start of the spring. All of the projected starters and depth pitchers have pitched except Williams who was a late arrival in camp due to the birth of his child. Hopefully the defense is better for Corbin than it was in his first start. This game is in Jupiter, Florida and televised by the Cardinals and on their radio channel.

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