It’s hard to gauge anything truly meaningful from spring training numbers, so you actually have to watch the games to see how individuals have shaped up in the exhibition schedule. That brings us to the next problem: not every game is available and even those that are often only feature everyday players for a few innings. The Nats rained out final spring game against the Tigers would have been a useful pointer for fans, as well as a good final tune-up before the regular season had the weather not had other ideas. C’est la vie.
There is one undoubted problem after six weeks in Florida — the injury to Doug Fister. The Nats brought him in to strengthen the back end of the rotation, but he managed just two starts in Florida before finding himself on the 15-day disabled list with a right lat strain that will almost certainly see him miss the first month of the season. Nationals fans currently hope this doesn’t signal the kind of injury plague which killed off the chances of winning in 2013.
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So, 2014 is going to be the year when the unfinished business from 2012 is finally done and the ghosts of that game five are finally laid to rest. The team is going to play well, stay healthy and win the 90 games they need to get into the playoffs, right? Couldn’t be more wrong if the first pulsating four hours of the season was anything to go by. The roller coaster that is watching the Nats is truly in motion.
Injury thoughts were once again brought to the fore in the second inning when Bryce Harper ran into Eric Young’s shin at second base. Harper looked dazed but managed to come back into the game to strikeout in the eighth. The news wasn’t so good about catcher Wilson Ramos, who left the game with left-hand pain and is reportedly facing five-weeks off with a broken metacarpal, though initial x-rays were negative.
The Ramos injury and the subsequent replacement with Jose Lobaton, and the likely caling up of Jhonatan Solano, may well see an end to the lineup experiment Matt Williams has been playing with at the end of spring and continued with on opening day. Now, I’m not just saying this because his meddling meant I was one-for-nine in opening day lineup predictions, but it also doesn’t make any sense.
The issue of who to bat eighth is tricky for National League managers who don’t have the comfort of the DH. Surely, the everyday player you should try to protect, certainly the one who struggles to play carrying injuries, is your catcher. Ramos could potentially be one of the top two catchers in baseball this year offensively, but he won’t do anything if he is on the DL. The Nats have the bats, one thru seven, to score enough runs to back up their pitching without exposing the catcher.
All of this works in theory, but, of course, the games are played between the lines, not in theory. Opening day against the Mets should have been a procession for Stephen Strasburg and the soon-to-be-all-conquering Nationals. Didn’t quite seem that way as Strasburg struggled while giving up four runs in the first two frames.
But when Danny Espinosa made an early bid for “walk of the season” when he moved Ian Desmond to second base for Denard Span to drive in, the writing was on the wall. Or perhaps written in the stars.
So, that’s one down, just another 161 to go!