Editor’s note: We haven’t covered the last couple Spring Training games — frankly, after watching games that count in Australia, it’s kind’ve hard to get excited about the meaningless contests going on in Florida. But we will have full recaps of the final three exhibition games, along with plenty of other great content leading up to Opening Day.
Today marked the final time the Washington Nationals will take the field at Space Coast Stadium, a welcome fact for players and fans who are ready to see their team leave Viera and head north for the regular season. The contest against the Mets (the Nationals’ opponents on Opening Day) also marked the final Spring Training tuneup for Nationals’ ace and Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg; Strasburg was backed by a lineup that featured Jose Lobaton in place of Wilson Ramos, but otherwise contained all regulars. The Nationals, on the backs of a 5-run third inning, took down the Mets by a score of 6-3. Here now, the good, the bad, and the ugly from the game.
— In 2013, Bryce Harper had a mammoth spring — .484/.507/.734 — that he then followed up with a .344/.430/.720 April. This spring, however, had been a different story, as Harper had gone just 8 for 36 with two extra-base hits. But if there was any doubt that Harper was fully healthy and ready for Opening Day, he erased it today with this mammoth blast:
That 3-run home run was Harper’s only hit on the day, though he added a walk in the sixth. But Harper’s shot — a 420-footer to the opposite field, off the flagpole in left-center — is a good indication that Harper will be just fine in the regular season.
— Denard Span continued a hot spring with a near-perfect day today. He dropped a bloop single over second in the first, lined an infield single to second in the third, walked in the fourth, and singled again in the fifth. Matt Williams seems intent on using Span in the leadoff spot, and the key function of a leadoff man is to get on base. Span’s 3-4 performance today, and his .347/.360/.449 spring triple-slash — have shown he has the ability to do just that (though the fact that he has only one walk is odd indeed).
— The best thing about Stephen Strasburg’s outing is that it was his last of the spring — the next time we will see him, it will be on March 31st at Citi Field. The second best thing about the outing was Strasburg’s pitch count — 84 over 5 2/3 innings, meaning Strasburg will likely be able to near 100 pitches on Opening Day. And the third-best thing about Strasburg’s outing was how successful it was. In those 5 2/3 innings, Strasburg struck out seven. He had one poor inning — the Mets’ three-run third — but otherwise dominated. All four of his pitches looked strong, including his brand-new slider:
— Ryan Zimmerman seems to always find his swing in Spring Training, and this year is no exception. Today, he went 2-4 with three RBIs, including a two-run single and this solo home run:
The homer was Zimmerman’s second of the spring, and it raised his batting average to .325. He has also looked strong on defense, including on this play, where he ranged far to the right of second base on a shift.
— The Mets put together a three-run inning off Strasburg in the third, including a Travis d’Arnaud home run and an Eric Young RBI triple. During the inning, Strasburg appeared to be squeezed by home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstadt. In the at-bat against d’Arnaud, Strasburg fired a 1-2 fastball that appeared to catch the outside corner, but was called a ball by Wendelstadt — the very next pitch was d’Arnaud’s home run. There have been times throughout his career — this game against the Cubs comes to mind — when Strasburg has let someone else’s mistake derail his outing. Today, however, Strasburg regained his composure, pitching several more strong innings after the third.
— Spring Training camera angles are notoriously shoddy, and on this day, it meant that that we couldn’t see on television exactly where Harper’s homer landed. Other than that, not too much ugly on the day.
The Nationals have two more games left to play in the Grapefruit League. Tomorrow, they head to Jupiter to play the Cardinals, while tomorrow, they once again head to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets. Wednesday’s game will be at 1:05, while Thursday’s will be a 12:10 start — both games will be televised on ESPN.