A week and a half into the Grapefruit League season, and we’ve already started to move into the dog days of Spring Training, when players and fans alike begin to become sick of meaningless baseball, ready to come back north for Opening Day. Today, the Nationals took on the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium, with Tanner Roark taking the mound opposite Astros’ southpaw Brett Oberholtzer. The Nationals had a power surge in the first inning, then managed to withstand a Houston rally to win, 8-5. As always, there was some degree of good, some degree of bad, and some degree of ugly in today’s game, and we’re here to chronicle it.
— Against right-handed pitching last year, Bryce Harper looked every bit like the megastar he is expected to be — his .405 wOBA against them ranked tenth in the major leagues (min. 300 PA), between MVP candidates Freddie Freeman and Troy Tulowitzki. But against southpaws, Harper’s wOBA dropped to .297 — 27th-worst in the big leagues (min. 100 PA), just behind Zack Cozart. So Harper’s two-run home run right down the right field line off Oberholtzer was a hopeful sign of things to come. Harper improving against left-handed pitching would go a long way towards making him a truly complete player.
— Wilson Ramos has put his immense potential at the plate on display this spring. In his first at bat, he took an Oberholtzer fastball over the left-field fence, over the stands, over the trees, and out of Space Coast Stadium for a three-run home run that capped the scoring in the 6-run first. In his own words:
Then, in his third at-bat, he added a line drive single to left. Ramos now has seven hits in 13 at-bats — his slugging percentage is .846. You get the sense that, if Ramos can manage to stay healthy, he could be among the top catchers in the National League.
— Tanner Roark continues to perform in his uphill battle for the Nationals’ fifth-starter job. In his second spring appearance, Roark struck out three and walked none. He managed to pitch out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first, and gave up just one run on a wind-aided third inning home run by Marc Krauss. Even if Roark doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation, the positive impression he is making this spring will give the Nationals added confidence in their rotation depth.
— Zach Walters may not make the team, but he’s making quite an impression. A bases-loaded 2-RBI single in his first at-bat was his seventh hit in eight at-bats — an .875 batting average. He made a loud out in the eighth inning on a sharp ground ball to first, lowering that average all the way down to .778. Yes, these at-bats haven’t exactly come against the highest-quality competition. But Walters has succeeded to the point where he has given himself an outside shot at making this team.
— Jerry Blevins hasn’t been mentioned so far in this space, but he has quietly put together a very productive early spring. Blevins’ first multi-inning appearance of the spring lasted an inning and two thirds, in which he did not allow a hit. In fact, Blevins still hasn’t given up a hit in Spring Training, allowing just 2 walks in 3 2/3 innings.
— Rafael Soriano is notorious for easing his way into the season, and in today’s outing, he certainly didn’t look ready for Opening Day. Facing a lineup filled with the Astros’ reserves, Soriano got knocked around, giving up two runs on three hits, all of them well-struck. The key blow in the inning was a two-out, two-run double off the bat of Carlos Corporan. Despite his 43 saves last year, Soriano’s season was full of troubling omens for the future, including a 1.23o WHIP and a decrease in velocity. Good spring training outings would go a long way towards soothing the minds of Nationals’ fans, and this was certainly not one of them.
— When the Nationals acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for what essentially amounted to spare parts, many began to wonder whether there may have been something wrong with Fister. Well, today’s news wasn’t a good sign; Fister was scratched from his start with elbow inflamation. The MRI came back clean, and both Fister and the Nationals have said that this is nothing to worry about. Still, elbow pain is never a good sign for a pitcher, and now I can’t shake the feeling that the Tigers knew something that the Nationals didn’t.
The Nationals have their first split squad day of the spring — one squad will take on the Braves at Space Coast Stadium, while the other heads to Roger Dean Stadium to play the St. Louis Cardinals. Ross Detwiler will start at home, while Chris Young will get the start on the road. Nationals-Braves will be on WFED and WJFK; you can listen to Nationals-Cardinals through the Cardinals’ radio feed on MLB.com.