It’s early and three exhibition games don’t mean much, but there are things to like coming out of Washington’s first few days of competition in 2016.
-In those three games, Dusty Baker’s team has shown a commitment to the running game that has yielded 10 stolen bases. Baker’s professed need for speed, first base coach Davey Lopes’ expertise in all things related to the art of stolen bases and a roster with a decent number of fast players should allow the Nats to use the steal much more often than they did in 2015 when only one team (the Mets) finished behind Washington in stolen bases.
-It was nice to see Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez throw well in their first outings. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are near guarantees in the one and two spots in the pitching rotation, but I believe that Washington needs the 2014 version of Roark and the 2012 version of Gonzalez in the rotation for the team’s pitching to be truly elite. Gonzalez in particular is one of the keys to the season, as having a top-level left-handed starter in the rotation can only serve to help the entire staff.
-Reading about it was exciting enough, but what an experience it must have been for the few lucky Nats fans in attendance at yesterday’s game to see Lucas Giolito go up against Major League competition and more than hold his own. The Nats’ top prospect threw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and only one hit allowed against the Marlins. I suppose that in a perfect world Giolito won’t be needed to make his Major League debut this year, but thoughts of the tall, powerfully built righty providing the type of boost Noah Syndergaard did for the Mets in 2015 are hard to shake.
-Sunday’s game with St. Louis will be available on the MLB Network at 1pm, but I suspect that most Nats’ fans regret that today’s is not as well. This afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, one time rotation mates Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann will square off as the Nationals take on the Tigers. While it will be difficult for some fans (and probably some players as well) to see Zimmermann in the opposition’s colors, it will be interesting to watch Zimmermann work against a lineup that is expected to include most of the Nats’ projected regulars. For those who can’t be in Florida for today’s game, relax…there’s a potential shot at seeing Zimmermann in action at Nationals Park in May when the Tigers visit.
-Finally, happy birthday to former Nationals Jeffrey Hammonds and Mike MacDougal. Hammonds (who turns 45 today) played briefly for the Nats in 2005, hitting .219 in 32 at bats. Hammonds’ top moment as a National came on May 18th of the 2005 season when his walk-off single plated the game’s only run as Washington defeated Milwaukee 1-0. MacDougal, who was an American League all-star for Kansas City in 2003, turns 39 today. The slender reliever served as the Nationals’ closer for most of the difficult 2009 season, saving 20 games in the process.