This is the last year the Nationals will be playing their Spring Training games at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. They will be joining the group that includes the Mets, Cardinals, Marlins and their new home partner the Astros at their new complex in West Palm Beach. It will give that part of the state five teams to play on a consistent basis.
The drive from Orlando to Viera was certainly uneventful. The only thing that slows it down is the three toll booths that interrupt the flow of the ride. Advantage Arizona. No toll booths in the Valley of the Sun.
The stadium itself is as I had remembered. Small and quaint. I think fans like the intimacy of the older parks along with the traditions that accompany the small size.
But the seasoned parks are becoming extinct. And for me-that’s a shame. I like the charm of facilities built in the 60’s. Some of them don’t have working elevators or hot water. But it’s all good.
I was fortunate to see the Marlins 6 foot-2, 242 pound right-handed ace, Jose Fernandez make the start. He is a huge presence on the mound. Just the way he carries himself before he even throws a pitch is enough to shake the knees and rattle the bones of the opposition. He’s a wide bodied specimen of a well-tooled machine.
Fernandez is pitching nice and loose. The ball is leaving his hand extremely well and there appear to be no signs of wear and tear from his surgery. He looks healthy and fit. His fastball and all his pitches have zip. The part I liked best? He kept the ball down and showed the ability to make the right pitch at the right time. He only struck out one hitter, but I don’t think that was the intent of the outing. I think he wanted to get in his work, throw pain free and build his arm strength. Missions accomplished.
Christian Yelich has long been one of my favorite players to watch. He is a lanky left-handed hitter with an excellent eye at the plate. There is a bit more swing and miss in him than I originally projected, but as he did yesterday, he comes through in the clutch with men on base. His two run single was a typical Yelich hit. Up the middle and sharply hit. Yelich doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm, but he’s an adequate outfielder, and a better hitter than defender. He, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton should form a fine trio in the outfield.
Stanton did not make the road trip due to soreness in his knee. It’s the same knee that was repaired in the past. I don’t think the Marlins are overly concerned. But I admit my caution light is on.
Ichiro beat out a ground ball by running 4.14 home to first. I’ve seen him at 3.7 in his career, but a tad over 4 is really good. He’s still slapping the ball and getting rewarded with his speed.
While I thought his bat was slow when he was with the Dbacks, I think Martin Prado’s bat may have even slowed a tad more. He had some trouble making a clean pass through the ball, swinging late and not really squaring up pitches. But maybe it’s still early and he’ll find his stroke as the spring continues.
I saw Joe Ross pitch for the Nationals. I also got to see Tanner Roark. Ross started and pitched fairly well. He has a good arm, but he doesn’t miss many bats. His pitches looked fairly straight to me. He and Roark will likely complete the rotations spots behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez for sure. For now. Lucas Giolito waits in the wings as the likely call to the bigs by midseason. Bronson Arroyo looms as well. So there are some pitchers hanging in camp that may challenge either Ross or Roark at some point down the road.
I have always been concerned about the health and physical condition of Anthony Rendon. He really, really looked good in the game I saw. He took the ball to the opposite field with a flick of the bat. His strength and bat control still exist. I look for a big, healthy year from Rendon.
My biggest concern about the Nationals is their defense, and most specifically up the middle. I saw Daniel Murphy and Danny Espinosa stumble on plays. To maximize that good pitching, the defense has to be stellar. I wonder if we won’t see rookie Trea Turner get his share of time at shortstop?
Ben Revere and Trea Turner could really provide some wicked speed at the top of the order should Dusty Baker choose to play them together and allow them to run. If they can get on base for Bryce Harper, Rendon, and Jayson Werth, all will be well. But it remains to be seen if Turner will play and where he will hit in the lineup.
I just don’t think this edition of the Nationals is as formidable as those in the past two years that didn’t meet our expectations. I think those teams had a better collection of athletes, but maybe this group executes better.
Tomorrow: Tigers Part 2 and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my Spring Training blogs.
That’s it. I’m done. For now.