The Washington Nationals start their Grapefruit League schedule this afternoon with a 1:10 pm EST matchup against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Florida's Tradition Field. On the mound for the Nationals in the spring opener is right-hander Taylor Jordan, the 25-year-old, '09 9th Round pick who debuted in the majors last season.
Jordan is one of several pitchers competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. New Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters this morning that he'll be watching all of his starters closely as he evaluates the arms who are up for consideration.
"I'm hoping to see that they're competing hard for it," Williams explained. "So, we have a number of guys who have that opportunity and I want them to have that in mind. I want them to relish the opportunity and prepare themselves to compete hard in spring for it. So, looking at nothing in particular other than looking to go to New York with our 25 best."
Taylor Jordan started his 2013 campaign, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, at High-A Potomac in the Nats' system. After working his way up to Double-A, Jordan was called up to the majors. In nine starts for Washington, the right-hander was worth +0.7 fWAR, with a (1-3) record, a 3.66 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, 11 walks (1.92 BB/9) and 29 Ks (5.05 K/9) in 51 2/3 IP. In naming him the starter for this afternoon's game earlier this week, Williams said he was impressed with what he's seen from Jordan so far this spring.
"He's got mid-90's fastball and movement," Williams said. "Good changeup. Breaking ball for strikes. I've been really impressed with what I've seen. It's electric stuff out of the hand."
In Jordan's first competitive action today, the Nats' skipper said he's more concerned with the fastball and change than anything else with the righty who will go two innings if they're relatively smooth.
"Certainly his fastball is good," Williams said. "He runs it in there as hard as anybody. But, for me it's command of his changeup, I think is important today. Right now, first time out, breaking balls are breaking balls and some of them work and some of them don't right now. But to command the heater and the changeup is important today. I'm hoping he just doesn't get too amped up and goes out there and does his work. I think he'll be fine."
As for what the first-year manager will be watching for from all of his starters this spring?
"I want them to be aggressive within the strike zone," Williams said. "Be able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes, of course, and look at how they hold runners and how they manage the game themselves. Results are results and you can't evaluate off of that, but how they go about their business is important to me."
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It's Jordan's first start of the spring, but it's Williams' first competitive game as the Nationals' manager. Asked if he was ready for the task, the 48-year-old veteran of 17 major league seasons as a player said he's looking forward to it, but it's not about him.
"It's about making sure our guys are prepared," he said, "and get them some at bats, get them some time in the field. Certainly want to get our pitchers in there and let them go and continue to develop their arm strength and their feel. So am I anxious? No. It's fine. We've set up a plan and there may be hiccups along the way, but we'll just deal with them."
Here's the Nationals' lineup for Game 1 of Grapefruit League action, which starts at 1:10 PM EST:
Who's watching/listening to the Nationals?
• Notes on the broadcast: Today's game is being broadcast live on WJFK 1580 and 1500 AM in the D.C. area. The MLB Network is showing the game on delay tonight. If you're in the NY area, the Mets are showing the game live at 1:10 pm EST on SNY.