With just one exhibition game to play before Opening Day on Monday, seventeen-year major league veteran and second-year Washington Nationals' skipper, Matt Williams, was asked today how he was feeling heading into the season opener as compared to previous years.
"It's still excitement," Williams said. "It's still optimism. All the things that everybody experiences this time of year.
"If you ever lose that edge, I think it's not a good thing. Nerves, yeah, excitement, adrenaline. All of those combine on Opening Day every single year. So, played a long time, never had any different experience."
Before Game 1 of 162 on Monday, however, the Nats needed to play one more exhibition game with the New York Yankees today.
On the mound for the Nationals this afternoon, Doug Fister was looking to bounce back from a rough outing last time out against the Miami Marlins in a windy Space Coast Stadium.
Fister, 31, allowed eight hits, three of them home runs and six runs total in four innings or work against the Marlins, leaving him with a 7.02 ERA (13 ER) in 16 ⅔ IP in Grapefruit League action over which he walked three, struck out nine and gave up six home runs, with opposing hitters putting up a combined .347 AVG against him.
Fister gave up three fly balls in a windy Nationals Park in the first inning of today's matchup, but none of them left the yard as he completed a quick, eight-pitch, 1-2-3 frame.
When Fister came back out for the second, the Nationals were up 3-0 on the Yankees and right-handed starter Nathan Eovaldi, courtesy of a sac fly by Ryan Zimmerman and a two-run single to center by Wilson Ramos.
Fister set the Yankees down in order again in the second, completing a 17-pitch frame at 25 pitches overall in two scoreless. In the third, Fister struck Alex Rodriguez out with a 75 mph 2-2 curve, induced a weak grounder to first from Stephen Drew and got some help from a charging Michael Taylor in center, who closed his glove on a fly off Didi Gregorius' bat to bring a 13-pitch frame to an end. 38 total for Fister after three.
The Yankees' first base runner of the game was Jacoby Ellsbury, who took a cutter off his foot/lower leg and took his base. Brett Gardner connected for New York's first hit off Fister, punching a 1-0 fastball threw the left side by a diving Yunel Escobar. Carlos Beltran grounded into a force at second for the first out of the frame, and with runners on first and third, Mark Teixeira grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3. 12-pitch frame by Fister, 50 total after four scoreless.
Brian McCann beat the Nationals' dramatic shift with an opposite field double to left and took third on a groundout by Chase Headley in the second at bat of the fifth. Alex Rodriguez K'd swinging over a 2-2 curve, but Yankees' second baseman Stephen Drew stepped up next and took a 3-1 fastball for a ride, depositing it in the back of the Nationals' bullpen in right field for a two-out, two-run home run that made it a 3-2 game. Didi Gregorius battled Fister for 10 pitches before lining a one-hopper to first that Ryan Zimmerman picked. 24-pitch fifth for Fister, 74 overall.
Jacoby Ellsbury K'd swinging to start the top of the sixth, but Brett Gardner bunted his way on, dropping a slow roller down the line that left Danny Espinosa with no play. A fly to right by Carlos Beltran and a groundout to second by Mark Teixeira ended a 13-pitch inning that left Fister at 87 overall.
Doug Fister's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 87 P, 51 S 7/5 GO/FO.
Nationals' left-hander Felipe Lopez retired the first two batters in the seventh, striking Chase Headley out for out no.2 before Craig Stammen was called out from the pen to face Alex Rodriguez. Stammen struck A-Rod out with a filthy 1-2 knuckle curve. Still 3-2 Nats after six and a half.
Drew Soren took the mound for the Nationals in the eighth after having left his last start with a blister on his right foot. Rob Refsnyder popped out to second for the first out of the frame, but Matt den Dekker lost a fly to right-center in the next at bat and failed to come up with what was ruled a double by Didi Gregorius. Chris Young took a 2-1 fastball to left in the next at bat and the two-run home run just cleared the left field fence. 4-3 Yankees.
Rich Hill took over with one out after 21 pitches by Storen and an error by Emmanuel Burriss at short. Hill threw a 1-2 bender by Garett Jones for a swinging K and out no.2. Jonathan Galvez K'd looking for out no.3.
Raudy Read, a 21-year-old, Nats' backstop prospect, singled to center off Yankees' lefty Andrew Miller, but he was doubled trying to take third on a chopper to the mound. Miller fielded it and threw to first, and Read was gunned down trying to take the extra base, 1-3-5 to end the eighth.
Blake Treinen took the mound in the top of the ninth and set the Yankees down in order in a 17-pitch frame.
Yankees' right-hander Dellin Betances gave up a single by Reed Johnson and a walk to Pedro Severino, but Matt den Dekker K'd swinging and Danny Espinosa did the same. Ballgame.
Yankees win, 4-3 final.