You can’t ask for a better Grapefruit League matchup than Justin Verlander vs Stephen Strasburg on the mound. Both starters looked sharp as the Houston Astros’ righty got through three scoreless on the mound, while Strasburg, in his Spring debut, gave up a run in two innings of work in what ended up an 8-1 win for the Washington Nationals in the two teams’ shared Spring Training home.
Strasburg Spring Debut: It’s weird to think of the Washington Nationals as a team that is still flying under the radar to some degree, given that they’ve won the NL East in four of the last six seasons, though the lack of success on the national stage in each NLDS appearance may have something to do with that.
“I think we’re under the radar a little bit,” Stephen Strasburg explained earlier this Spring, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier, in talking about the Nationals maybe not getting the same attention some of the other contenders receive.
“I think you get this feeling that this is like our bubble; this is our window,” he added.
Strasburg, in spite of the overwhelming hype he received as a prospect, and the attention paid to his major league debut and early career, has flown under the radar a bit in the last few seasons, pitching in a Nationals’ rotation that includes the three-time Cy Young award winner, Max Scherzer.
Strasburg was dominant last season, however, going (15-4) over 28 outings with a 2.52 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 204 Ks (10.47 K/9), 47 walks (2.41 BB/9), and .203/.265/.317 line against in 175 1⁄3 innings pitched. He finished third in Cy Young voting, behind Scherzer and the LA Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
In his Spring debut this afternoon, the 29-year-old right-hander started things off with a backwards K, throwing a 97 mph 0-2 fastball by Marwin Gonzalez to get the Astros’ third baseman looking.
A double and a wild pitch put a runner (Derek Fisher) on third with one down in the Astros’ first, but Strasburg caught Carlos Correa looking with a 98 mph fastball for out No. 2 and Brian McCann popped a 2-1 fastball up in foul territory off third to end an 18-pitch bottom of the first.
97 on the black. Good luck. pic.twitter.com/wBqCmDPk49— MLB (@MLB) March 3, 2018
Kyle Tucker took advantage of the Nationals’ shift to bunt for a single, dropping one down on the left side of the infield with one out in the Astros’ second, and a passed ball allowed the runner to move into scoring position.
Max Stassi rolled over a 2-0 changeup in the next at bat, but ‘Stros infielder Tony Kemp hit a first-pitch fastball back up the middle for a two-out RBI single and a 1-0 Houston lead.
A throwing error by Strasburg on a pick attempt at first base put Kemp in scoring position at second, but he was stranded there at the end of an 11-pitch inning by the Nats’ starter, who was up to 29 pitches total after two innings of work.
Two of Three-headed Monster: Sean Doolittle (16P) retired the Astros in order in the third, after taking over for Strasburg, and mixed in a few sliders (something he’s been working on in Spring Training). Brandon Kintzler tossed a quick, 11-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth, getting two groundouts around a lineout to center.
Harper’s Toe Update: Bryce Harper, who missed some time with an ingrown toenail, was back in the lineup today. Harper struck out on a foul-tip on a high fastball from Justin Verlander in his first trip to the plate, then worked a walk out of James Hoyt the second time up, though he was stranded.
Walk, Walk, Walk: Outfielder-turned-reliever Anthony Gose walked three straight batters in his first Spring Training appearance for the Astros loading the bases in the fifth before he was lifted.
Righty Matt Ramsey took over on the mound with Brian Goodwin at the plate, and a hard-hit grounder through the right side (and off second baseman Tony Kemp) drove in two, 2-1 Nationals. Rafael Bautista, who took the third free pass, scored on a wild pitch in the next at bat, 3-1. Wilmer Difo took the fourth walk of the inning, putting two on in front of Bryce Harper, who K’d looking at a 1-2 fastball outside (and high-ish). A hit-by-pitch on Miguel Montero loaded the bases back up, with one out, and Jose Marmolejos drove in two more with an opposite field single, 5-1.
Andrew Stevenson snuck a single through the left side to load the bases back up in front of Kelvin Gutierrez, who lined a two-run double into the right field corner to put the Nats up by six, 7-1.
#Nats' Kelvin Gutierrez lofts a two-run double over Kyle Tucker's head in right field. First #SpringTraining extra-base hit for No. 10 on the @Nationals' Top 30 Prospects list: https://t.co/bxIpqDrXQF pic.twitter.com/KhdccPSjew— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 3, 2018
Horse Head Kelley: Dave Martinez, acknowledging Shawn Kelley’s injury history, said early this Spring that he would handle the reliever carefully this season, potentially using Kelley every other day, or on as much rest as needed to keep him healthy.
Kelley, who’d tossed two scoreless in Grapefruit League action coming into today’s game, worked around a leadoff walk and a throwing error (on a potential double play) for a third scoreless inning on the mound this Spring.
Moar runz pleze: Adrian Sanchez doubled in a run in the seventh, adding to the Nationals’ lead, 8-1.
KIEBOOMS: Carter Kieboom made his Grapefruit League debut. His brother Spencer was in the game as well. Carter, the younger of the two brothers, went down swinging at a 3-2 fastball after working the count full in his first at bat in a seventh inning matchup against righty Francis Martes.
Bullpen: Tommy Milone tossed two scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings. Left-hander Ismael Guillon got some help from a diving Victor Robles, who made another impressive catch in the left-center gap for the final out of a scoreless bottom of the eighth. Sammy Solis worked a scoreless ninth to end it. Final Score: 8-1 Nationals.