The Washington Nationals’ Spring Training record fell to 3-2 with an 8-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday afternoon. But as always with Spring Training, the most intriguing part of the game wasn’t the play-by-play (though you can find that at the bottom of this post), but the performance of individual players.
If you blinked, you probably missed Stephen Strasburg’s first Spring Training start, which ended after just two innings and 15 pitches. He struck out one and gave up one hit, but an inning-ending double play allowed him to face the minimum six batters. Strasburg debuted his slider, a pitch he just added to his arsenal, and used it to strike out B.J. Upton and get Evan Gattis to ground out. Strasburg’s dominant outing removed any doubt that he was experiencing lingering affects from his elbow surgery in October.
Ian Desmond was smoking the ball on Tuesday, blasting off a double and a home run in his 3-for-3 effort. He was as aggressive with the bat as he has been on the bases, and he improved his record for spring stolen bases to 3-for-3 in the fourth inning. Desmond led the Nationals in stolen bases in 2013 (21), 2012 (21) and 2011 (25), so with the support of manager Matt Williams, who encourages aggressive base-running, we could see those numbers jump even higher for Desmond in 2014.
As evidenced by Desmond’s stolen base in the fourth inning, followed by Jamey Carroll’s in the seventh, Williams doesn’t let up on his aggressive style of play even during Spring Training. The Nats are now 7-for-8 in total stolen base attempts through five games.
Though the value of the stolen base is often debated, the Nationals look to benefit from this increase in aggression. Washington’s base runners took only 88 extra bases in 2013, good for 14th in the majors. Their attitude on the field last year was regularly labeled as absent or lacking passion, so the energy that comes with stealing bases and taking risks could be what they need to invigorate their play.
Williams also showcased his active managing-style with a dramatic defensive shift in the bottom of the eighth inning. The bases were loaded with one out when Williams instructed right fielder Steven Souza to join the other four infielders and cover first base. Though Williams wouldn’t have made the shift in the same situation during the regular season, the circumstances provided the Nationals a fine opportunity to practice something they had been working on during a real-game situation – even though the plan backfired when Philip Gosselin tripled to right field, precisely where Souza would have been waiting.no comments